Savela Parkash, a 25-year-old doctor who is set to become the first Hindu woman to contest elections from Buner district in Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KPK), says her religion will be a factor in next year’s polls. I believe it will not happen. Her political party, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), also appears to share her views, fielding her from her general seat rather than the seat reserved for religious minorities.
“I am probably the first minority female candidate to contest an election from a general seat and not just from Buner. Since the day I applied for nomination, I have been so amazed that people have given me the title ‘Buner ki Beti’. We are very proud of the response we received. They don’t recognize me as a Hindu woman, but as a pukhtana (indigenous person) from India’s Pashtun community,” said Savera, who graduated from medical school just a few months ago.
“Religious divisions are very outdated. We need to move forward,” she said, saying she is fighting the election to address three key issues in her constituency: education, health and women’s conditions. he added. She is also a strong advocate of people-to-people ties between India and Pakistan.
She is the daughter of Dr. Om Parkash, a native of Buna and a member of the PPP, and Dr. Elena Parkash, a native of Russia. Together they run a clinic in Bunar.
Pakistan is scheduled to hold parliamentary and provincial elections on February 8, 2024. Mr. Savera is the PPP candidate for Mr. Buner’s PK-25 seat in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly.
In the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which borders Afghanistan and has seen skirmishes between the Taliban and Pakistani security forces in recent years, it is unusual for women from minority communities to participate in electoral politics.
Pashtuns make up the majority of the state’s population, with Hindus accounting for less than 1 percent. According to the 2017 census, the number of Hindus across Pakistan is approximately 4.4 million, representing 2.15 percent of the population. According to another report released in 2022 by the Center for Peace and Justice, Hindus make up just 1.18% of Pakistan’s population.
Delivering her first election speech in both Pashto and Urdu on Wednesday, she appealed to young people to vote for development.
“It is my party’s decision to give me the ticket for the PK-25 seat. Seeing my father being involved in this party for decades, I always want to do something for the people of Buner. The key issues that led me to dive into electoral politics were the situation of women, education and health in my constituency.The key to solving all these issues was “It’s about making education accessible to all. The saddest thing is that there is still only one women’s university in Buna,” she said.
Boys in Buner still have the opportunity to receive education from madrassas, Saveera said, lamenting that even then girls there do not have an option. “That means most girls here still don’t have access to basic primary education. They don’t have public primary schools for girls, and not everyone can afford to go to private schools,” she said. Ta.
Savera explains that this means that most girls born into disadvantaged families end up working as domestic helpers in elite homes and grow up without an education, and the situation is not much better when it comes to health care. Said it has not been done.
“Women seek medical attention only at the end of their pregnancy, and if their symptoms are severe, they are referred to faraway places like Lahore and Peshwar. There are no facilities in Bunar to deal with emergencies. “Women and newborns continue to die due to lack of adequate health care,” she said.
After studying till class 10 in Buner, Savera went to Lahore and then to Abbottabad for further studies.
She admits that Buna, like most other regions in KPK, was not a PPP stronghold. In the 2018 elections, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) won both the national and local elections from the KPK. Savera’s candidacy is seen as an effort by the PPP to breathe new life into the state’s political scene, targeting both youth and women.
But she said she won’t be disappointed even if she doesn’t win. “I had already enrolled in an academy in Lahore to prepare for civil service. If I don’t win, I will resume my civil service preparation,” she said.
Saveera insists that he has never faced discrimination on the basis of religion in Buna. Although she wears a hijab most of the time, “it’s my choice, and if I don’t wear one, it’s often fine,” she said.
Her father and the late Benazir Bhutto were the main inspiration for her to step into the world of politics. “My father has always provided free treatment to the underprivileged. He had his own blood bank where people in need could come in emergencies. But other than him, “The late Benazir Bhutto’s ideology of serving the country has always stayed with me,” Savera said.
She also expressed happiness over the influx of well wishes from India since her candidacy was announced.
“I am very happy to be able to be a common ground for the people of both countries who are connected to me. I have never felt any difference between our two countries. Our culture and history are the same. “If we get power, we will become a bridge between the two counties,” she said.
Her father, Dr. Om Parkash, 60, is a cardiologist who studied medicine in Russia. He currently serves as the Chairman of the KPK Physicians Division of the PPP. He said his family did not migrate to India during Partition because Buna, which was previously part of the princely state of Swat, had a minority-friendly ruler.
“The Walis of Swat were very kind to us. It was in 1969 that Swat state was dissolved and merged with KPK,” Parkash said.