Pakistan’s candidates have been swinging into action as the first truly democratic transition of power takes place — filing nomination papers, appearing before the Election Commission for its mostly absurd scrutiny and campaigning across the nation and in their respective provinces. However, there are three daring candidates who are out to make history and change up what is known as the “status quo” in Pakistan, former Hindu slave, Veero Kolhi, and two tribal women, Badam Zari and Nusrat Begum, who, against all odds, are running in the upcoming May elections and are determined to make a difference.
When Veero Kolhi made the required asset declaration to run in the upcoming general elections, her list was fairly short: five mattresses, two beds, cooking pots and a bank account with savings of just 2,800 rupees, or, $28.
But, while she may lack the funds often needed to become a successful politician in Pakistan, she has something most of them don’t — a powerful message and determination. Kolhi will be the first contestant to have escaped the feudal-style landowner who forced his serfs to work in conditions that can be likened to modern day slavery and her goal is clear: to help other women who are in her position to break away from the outdated and de-humanizing feudal system and to give them a voice.
"The landlords are sucking our blood," Kolhi told Reuters at her one-room home in Hyderabad, "Their managers behave like pimps — they take our daughters and give them to the landlords."
To make her journey even more incredible, Kolhi, a sturdy woman in her mid-50s with 20 grandchildren, is also a part of Pakistan’s small Hindu minority, and will be running with no party to back her.
Similarly, Badam Zari, from Sulatanabad, Bajaur Agency, is one of the first women from the tribal belt to contest elections. And unlike most public figures, she has lived the problems of her area and wants to use her own experiences to bring about change.
For Zari, education is most pertinent and pivotal and bringing change to the parts of the country she feels have been neglected.
“Had I received education,” she says, “my life would be very different. I regret my past; so providing education to the children of Bajaur is on top of my priorities.”
Her other goal is to help bring Bajaur the same kind of progress that cities like Lahore and Islamabad have seen.
"I made this decision to serve and help our sisters and mothers in the area,” she says, “Our area of Bajaur is poor and backward, we have problems in the health and education sectors — this is the reason I decided to take part in the election,"
She is also not scared of any troubles that she may face for contesting the elections –“Why should I?” she says, “I will work inside our cultural framework and will fight for women’s rights.”
Nusrat Begum, the other Pakistani woman from the tribal belt, is also out to break the political barriers of the country.
She initially had tried to run for Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, a party led by cricket-player-turned-politician who is making waves in Pakistani politics himself, however, did not receive the ticket. Undeterred, Nusrat took to running as an independent.
Vowing to work to provide the basic amenities to people, especially women, children and minorities, which are sorely lacking as of now, she also critiqued the past governments, saying that “All the people who won from the constituency in the past did nothing for people’s betterment.”
The Pakistani government isn’t new to women running or winning elections, but not coming from wealthy and well-known families stacks the odds heavily against all three women. Nevertheless, just by venturing outside of the confines of their homes and contesting elections, these women are already making a difference.