Candidates from various parties have started filing their nomination papers for the general elections to be held in February in Pakistan. These candidates also include Dr. Saveera Prakash, a Hindu woman and a doctor by profession, who is contesting general elections in Pakistan for the first time. Sawira Prakash, a resident of Buner district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, is a medical graduate and is contesting from PK-25 General seat on the ticket of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Dr. Saveera Prakash is also the General Secretary of the Women’s Wing of PPP. His father Dr. Om Prakash has also been a member of PPP for more than three decades. Both father and daughter together run a clinic in Buner. His mother Dr. Yelen Prakash is of Russian origin. Saveera Prakash completed her MBBS degree from Abbottabad International Medical College, a private college, in 2022. She says her medical background confirms that serving humanity is in her blood. She has expressed her desire to work in the field of women empowerment in Pakistan.
25-year-old Dr. Saveera Prakash believes that her religion will not be a factor in the elections. His party seems to agree with his views and hence has fielded him from a general seat instead of the seat reserved for religious minorities. So she says I am probably the first minority woman candidate, not only from Buner, but also the first woman to contest from a general seat. He said that I am very proud to say that from the day I filed my nomination, the response of the people has been so amazing that the public has given me the title of ‘Buner ki Beti’. She said that people are not recognizing me as a Hindu woman, but as a Pukhtana (native) of the Pashtun community.
Dr. Saveera Prakash said that division on religious basis is very old, we need to move forward. She said she is contesting the elections to work on three important issues in her district – education, health and the status of women. She also strongly advocates for better relations between the people of India and Pakistan. Delivering his first election speech in both Pashto and Urdu, he urged the youth to vote for development. He said that it is my party’s decision to give me ticket from PK-25 seat. He said that after seeing his father associated with the party for decades, he always had a desire to do something for the people of Buner. The important issues that inspired me to enter electoral politics are the status of women, education and health in my district. The key to fixing all these issues is to make education accessible to all. I am very sad to say that there is still only one college for women in Buner.
Dr Saveera Prakash said young boys in Buner still have the opportunity to get some education from madrassas. But even that is not an option for girls, so most of the girls here still do not have access to basic primary education, she lamented. He said that there are no government primary schools for girls and even if there are private schools, not everyone can afford them. She said most girls from underprivileged families work as domestic helpers in the homes of the rich and grow up without any education. Dr. Saveera Prakash said that when it comes to health care, the situation is not much better there either. He said that only when the woman reaches the last stage of her pregnancy, she is taken to the doctor and if her condition becomes critical, she is referred to distant Islamabad or Peshawar. He said there are no facilities in Buner to deal with emergencies. Women and newborn babies are still dying due to lack of basic health care.
Dr Sawira admits that Buner has never been a PPP stronghold. In the 2018 elections, Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) won both the national and provincial elections. However, the candidature of Dr. Saveera Prakash is being seen as an attempt by the PPP to inject a breath of fresh air into the political landscape of the province by targeting both youth and women. She said that she would not be disappointed even if she did not win. He said that I had already taken admission in an academy in Lahore to prepare for civil services. If I don’t win, I will start my civil services preparation again. Dr. Saveera Prakash says that she never faced any discrimination in Buner because of her religion. She said that she wears hijab most of the time because it is my choice and there are times when I do not wear hijab, there is no problem.
Dr. Saveera Prakash said that her father and late Benazir Bhutto were her main inspirations for entering politics. He said that my father has always been providing free medical treatment to the underprivileged. He had his own blood bank where the needy used to come in case of emergency. He said that apart from this, late Benazir Bhutto is his inspiration whose ideology of serving the country always remains with me. He also expressed happiness that he has been receiving congratulatory messages from India since the announcement of his candidature. Dr. Saveera Prakash said that I feel very excited that I have become a common point between the people of both the countries. He said that I never felt any difference between the two countries because our cultures and history are similar. She said that if I get some power after being elected, I will work as a bridge between the two countries. He said his family did not go to India during Partition because Buner, which was previously part of the princely state of Swat, had rulers who were kind to minorities. Dr. Sawira said that if elected she would help in solving the problems of Hindus living in Pakistan. She said that she is a patriotic Hindu and her morale has further increased after getting the title of ‘Buner ki Beti’. Dr. Sawira said that if elected, she would play a positive role in the relations between Islamabad and New Delhi and Hindus of both the countries would be able to contact her without any hesitation.
However, in Afghanistan’s neighboring troubled province Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, it is rare for women from minority communities to enter electoral politics. The area has seen numerous clashes between the Taliban and Pakistani security forces in recent years. Let us tell you that Pashtun people are the majority population of this province, Hindus are less than 1 percent here. According to the 2017 census, the number of Hindus in entire Pakistan is about 44 lakh i.e. 2.15 percent of the population. Another report by the Center of Peace and Justice in 2022 said that Hindus constitute only 1.18 percent of Pakistan’s population.
-Neeraj Kumar Dubey