Sunita Parmar (31) in Pakistan’s Sindh province will become the first Hindu woman to contest the provincial assembly elections to be held on Wednesday.

A member of the scheduled caste and from the Meghwar community, Parmar is contesting as an independent candidate for the Sindh Assembly constituency PS-56 from Tharparkar district in the Thar Desert – one of the country’s most backward constituencies where voters complain of lack of schools, roads and water.

According to the 2017 census, Tharparkar has a population of 1.6 million, half of whom are Hindus. Most like Parmar belongs to the scheduled castes, at the bottom of the social class system.

She knows that she is challenging centuries-old caste divisions, traditional prejudices and a class system where the elite have wielded power.

“It has been very difficult and I have had to work very hard. In this, I have been greatly supported by the women of my area. I am doing this to get us out of the clutches of the elite class system. The middle class people of Thar are tired of voting for these elite lords. It is my heartfelt desire to free us all of the elite class system and improve our lives” Parmar explains.

Parmar says she was compelled to contest the upcoming polls as previous governments failed to deliver on their promises of making life better for the people of her constituency, especially women.

“In rural areas, people face a lot of difficulties during labour. There are no roads so it is very difficult to find transportation. Quite often, women have died in route due to labor complications. There are so many such problems. If I win the election, then I will open a maternity hospital that caters to two to three villages with a competent gynecologist. Schools and education is almost non-existent here. People in Thar are unable to educate their children as there are no schools. Even the girls in villages across Thar (desert) hope to go educated. They want to be like other children but they are unable to due to lack of schools. Even if there is a school, there are no teachers. If I win, my first bill will be on education” she says.

Over 50 per cent of its 152,000 registered voters in Thar district belong to the Hindu community the highest in Pakistan, according to local authority data.

Parmar heads on the campaign trail with her trademark matka (water pitcher made of clay) balanced on her head, a powerful symbol of her connection to the lives of the people she wants to represent.

Parmar and her team head to one of the 400 villages that fall within the provincial assembly constituency that she contesting.

Resident Malika Bai says that the elite class that her family has regularly voted has failed to deliver on its promises.

“We don’t have schools. We don’t have water. We have to pull out water from well that are hundreds of feet deep and they are also running dry. There is no road that leads to our village. We have nothing.”

She says she will vote for Parmar who promises to improve standards of education for women and health facilities in her constituency. “Parmar’s election symbol resonates with my voters in these rural villages. “

“Matka (traditional water jug) is my election symbol. It’s called garah in the Sindhi language. The women get really happy when they see my election symbol. They say it is extremely memorable as the water jug is on their head nearly the whole day. They also tell me that they are tired of voting for the elite families as they have not done anything for the area,” says Parmar.

(With AP inputs)

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