Veeru Kolhi, the Hindu Dalit woman, who has seen many a tumultuous weather, is now challenging the Wadheras of Sindh!
The Wadhera is a rogue term often used for the influential Zamindar class which use their religious and political status to oppress the poor.
Veeru Kolhi, the Hindu Dalit woman, is challenging the echelon of the Zamindar system; she is challenging Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the Twitter-friendly politician who many may know as the son of late Benazir Bhutto and Asif Ali Zardari.
Bilawal inherited the political party of his maternal grandfather, after the death of his mother.
The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) claims to be the sole democratic force in Pakistan.
However, the party which claims to be as Islamic as the rest of the force is dominated by the Muslim Zamindars who thrive on keeping the poor, poor at every cost and suppressing their human rights.
In short, this contest will see a dynastic prince Bilawal out to reclaim his throne versus a woman like Veeru Kolhi who is disadvantaged at many levels; she is a poor Hindu Dalit woman, a widow who fights for the rights of the Hindu girls and boys kept poor by the Wadheras for their own benefits, she has no fancy degrees from Oxford or Harvard paid for by any party, she fights for forced conversion victims which no party can dare in Pakistan, and worse she is a woman with no relatives in politics. The last one is a serious disadvantage in the politics of Pakistan especially against someone like Bilawal.
Veeru Kolhi had in the past also run against PPP’s powerful leader Sharjeel Memon in the year 2013. Last year, she was arrested on the false charge of keeping whiskey which the Hindu community saw as a deliberate attempt to malign the Hindu Dalit woman activist. In Pakistan, even for non-Muslims, keeping alcohol is frowned upon. Many had opined that this was an attempt to ruin her reputation and shame her in public by showing that the woman does not respect the Islamic ethos of the nation. Her family has been in and out of jails many times on false pretexts and yet they refuse to give up, a trait they inherited from the most charismatic head of their family, Veeru Kolhi.
Veeru Kolhi has already said that it is development and corruption which matter the most. This 48-year-old Hindu Dalit woman is an agent of change in a stagnant society that ends up depending on the same Wadhera system which is responsible for keeping the interior Sindh in the dark ages where bonded labor, extreme poverty, forced conversion of minorities, prostitution and little jobs or bad quality education are rampant.
When she announced that she would run against Bilawal if a by-election was held on NA-204 in Larkana (on the ticket of Pasban Pakistan), the stronghold of the Bhutto clan, she highlighted that the political forces of the region did a corruption of 900 million rupees in the disguise of ‘developmental projects’! This is an astronomical sum considering the abject poverty with which the area struggles with.
A little about Veeru Kolhi:
Veeru Kolhi is the voice against the evil Wadhera system that imprisons poor minorities and makes them bonded labors. She is from a landless Hari caste of the Hindu community and was married at the age of 16 into a family which was working as the bonded laborers for a Zamindar in the 1990s.
The Zamindar was a clever man and kept exploiting the family but after 17 years, her family took a loan and moved out. Veeru Kolhi and her family started working with another landowner in Umerkot who was even worse than the last man they had to bear.
This new landlord not only gave them back-breaking and never-ending work but was a molester who would harass women openly, even in front of their husbands. He also set his eyes on the daughters of Veeru which she recognized early on.
One day, her own son and son and daughter-in-law were abused and beaten up on the day of their wedding by this landowner. She decided to help both of them flee the jail of her landowner, but then she heard the landlord ordering guards to fetch her to his place the next day. Veeru ran away clutching her little daughter. Her brothers and relatives collected money to settle the debt but the cunning Zamindar unilaterally decided that the debt had doubled up.
But Veeru Kolhi not only had her own safety but the safety of other bonded labors also on in mind; She moved the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) in Hyderabad who then sent her to a senior police official in Umerkot to get her family out of the clutches of the Zamindar.
The mother of 11, was facing a powerful Muslim landlord with connections with religious and political groups and the lives of 40 other bonded labors were dependent on her.
So Veeru Kolhi did what many would not do in her circumstances; stop being helpless.
She went to the police headquarters in Umerkot and sat there for 3days till she had a superintendent of police accompany her to the Zamindar’s personal prison.
Seeing the police force, the landlord’s men did not resist and the men and women, the bonded labors, were finally freed.
Veeru Kolhi received the Fredrick Douglas Freedom Award in 2009 and told the audience in Los Angeles that their Zamindar had hired men armed with guns and axes to terrorize and threaten them. But even then, he and his troops failed to defeat a spirited poor Hindu Dalit woman like Veeru Kolhi. Bilawal may win, but he must know that it is Veeru Kolhi who is the true daughter of the soil and it is she who understands the ground realities better than him.