//Pakistan's first 'Dalit Senator'

Pakistan's first 'Dalit Senator'

Dr Khatumal Jeewan, the first Dalit (scheduled caste) senator, was born in a remote village near the historic town of Umar Kot — the birth place of Mughal emperor Akbar, and the commercial centre of desert zone communities. Jeewan, who is proud to be where he is today, received his medical degree from the Dow Medical College (DMC). He said that being a doctor was considered to be the most honourable thing in his neighbourhood.
Being involved in students politics actively, he learnt how to mobilise comrades and rallied for various causes. When he joined the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), it was probably these attributes which inspired leadership, and he was awarded a ticket to contest elections several times (traditionally, the rich Hindu families would get tickets for elections). He was elected as Member National Assembly (MNA) more than once, and worked for the well-being of the deprived scheduled castes in the province.

Before joining parliamentary politics, Jeewan practiced in emergency and paediatrics wards in a public sector hospital for 12 months till 1987. However, he felt that if he was a legislator, he would be in a better position to serve his community. “Joining mainstream politics was the only way to bring about changes, as the priorities of rich Hindu legislators were not in favour of the deprived communities,” he said.

Dr Jeewan was elected as MNA for the first time in 1988 on a PPP ticket. He was re-elected as MNA in 1990, 1993 and 1997 on a ‘reserved seat’. Unfortunately, he was subjected to victimisation and a former Sindh chief minister got “several fake cases” registered against him, forcing him to go underground.

When the PPP-P government came into power in 2008, Dr Jeewan was made advisor to Sindh chief minister on mines and mineral development, as well as assuming responsibilities of Chairman of Sindh Coal Authority.

Recalling his days of student politics, Dr Jeewan said that when Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto first came to Umar Kot in 1971, there was a huge crowd to welcome him. “I was inspired at that moment to join politics,” he added.

Interestingly, he has been against the joint electoral system (introduced by former President Musharraf). According to him, only the upper class are given tickets by political parties under this system. Previously, there were four seats for Hindus/scheduled castes, four for Christians, one for Parsis, Buddhists and Sikhs, and one for Ahmedi/Qadiani.

According to the last census, there are 2.4 million Hindus in the country, a figure which has probably increased now. Eighty per cent of this population consists of scheduled castes.

About his political experience, he said that when he met people, he realised that the upper class Hindus were not mentally prepared to tolerate the scheduled castes. In fact, half of Thar’s population comprises Hindus, who are mostly scheduled castes. “I tried to unite and organise them”, because these were the people who voted for me.”

Discussing the problems faced by scheduled castes, he said that the first and foremost was education, which was followed by the non-availability of clean drinking water. “Upper class Hindus insist that their animals should drink water first from the wells, and then women from scheduled castes are allowed to fetch water,” he elaborated.

Dr Jeewan has provided separate wells to around 300-400 villages in Thar and schools to each village in Mirpurkhas. For him, the parliament is a proper forum to defend the community in vigorous way.

He is now striving for the proper utilisation of coal reserves in Thar – there are 175 billion tones of coal in Thar. If his efforts prove to be fruitful, then scheduled castes will get jobs in the mining sector. “A three-year diploma was initiated after starting a ‘mono-technical institute’ in Thar,” he explained. A mining department has also been established at Mehran University, Jamshoro.

Dr Jeewan said that from 2007 to 2008, Pakistan spent over seven billion dollars on oil imports for power generation while Thar has coal worth trillions of dollars. There is also a rehabilitation plan in the offing, and a ‘new’ city would also be established at Islamkot to rehabilitate the affected. “Lands will be refilled and compensation will be given. I have also suggested the setting up of a ‘granite city’ in Thar,” he added.

Imtiaz Ali. Wednesday, March 25, 2009