Hindu contesting Pakistan provincial elections overwhelmed by support from Muslims

Hindu contesting Pakistan provincial elections overwhelmed by support from Muslims

Aims to work for upgrading health care facilities, girls’ education

By Neel Kamal

Whatever the outcome of Pakistan’s February 8 national assembly elections, Dr Saveera Parkash feels overwhelmed by the support she has received in her constituency of Buner in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the country’s north-west.

The support extends beyond her province, across Pakistan, she tells Times of India.

Dr Parkash has already outlined her priorities if elected. She says belonging to a minority community in Pakistan is not an issue, as she feels very much that she belongs to Buner – to the extent that she gets the epithet of ‘Buner ki Beti’ (daughter of Buner).

Saveera Parkash, 25, obtained her MBBS degree from Abbottabad International Medical College in 2022 and was aspiring to appear for the competitive exam the Central Superior Services (CSS). She is now contesting the provincial assembly election from Buner’s PK-25 constituency.  A polyglot fluent in six languages, she says she wants to become a bridge between India and Pakistan in easing relations.

The priority focus areas she wants to take up include improving health care facilities in Buner, especially for women, by upgrading the infrastructure. This would involve creating facilities for safe deliveries, making childbirth affordable, addressing the issues concerning girls’ education, creating income support programmes for women and ensure safe drinking water.

As Buner lags in development, mainly scarce educational opportunities for girls, she aims to work for women’s education and set up colleges, she says.

Coming from a conservative society where women are often not allowed to go out without a burqa, they face a lot of challenges made worse by poverty. The government hospital in Buner is poorly equipped, without the required infrastructure to carry out critical operations. Complicated cases are often referred to larger hospitals in other areas. Sometimes the baby dies in the womb before reaching the other hospital. Dr Parkash wants to address these issues, for which she has prepared plans.

What challenges has she faced in turning to politics, particularly belonging to a minority community, and as a young woman who only graduated as a practising doctor a little over a year ago? Dr Parkash says that as a politician she has more options to serve her own people who do not consider her as being from a minority and give much love.

The Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has fielded her from a general seat rather than one reserved for women or minorities. As an elected representative, she will be able to serve people, mainly the poor and women, in better ways, she says.

People, including the middle aged and elderly, are offering prayers for her success in mosques while children are extending support in madrassas, as those who are leading her election campaign are mainly Muslims, she says.

About how she joined politics, Dr Parkash says her father Dr Om Parkash encouraged her to enter this field. He is very popular in the area, having been associated with the PPP since 1995, she explains. The first time she saw her father cry was when Benazir Bhutto was killed in December 2007. 

Additionally, while serving for a brief period as physician, she saw how the hospitals lack facilities to treat patient. This motivated her to work towards improving the facilities, for gaining power is of immense importance.

Neel Kamal is a senior reporter with Times of India in Bathinda. This report was originally published in The Times of India, 05 Feb. 2024

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