‘The pride of Thar’: How Krishna Kumari broke the Senate’s glass ceiling

Kumari's lifelong struggles, determination and advocacy made her the first Hindu Dalit woman elected to the Senate in 2018.
22 Mar, 2024

When Krishna Kumari donned her vibrant traditional attire in Parliament, she didn’t just proudly represent her community — she also encapsulated the struggles, determination and advocacy that made her the first Hindu Dalit woman to be elected to the Senate.

Kumari — lovingly called Keshoo Bai by her parents — is a 45-year-old rights activist belonging to the Kohli community from the remote village of Dhana Gam in Sindh’s Nagarparkar. She was elected as a PPP senator on a reserved seat for women in March 2018.

Social media was abuzz with congratulatory posts as it celebrated the win for Pakistan’s Hindu community, which made up under two per cent of the country’s population in 2017.

Kumari was greeted with traditional songs and flowers upon her arrival in her hometown of Nagarparkar after securing the party ticket, and received a round of applause from her fellow senators on the day of her oath-taking.

“I was told that it is such a big Upper House of Pakistan, where there are big names seen on the TV and in newspapers. […] So there was a fear in my heart but senators not just from my party but from others as well supported me a lot,” the recently retired senator recalled to Images.

However, that was only the beginning of her career in mainstream politics. Her journey of striving for an education despite a myriad of challenges, fighting against bonded labour and raising awareness about women’s and social issues goes way back.

“Finally, we are seen as humans,” Kumari — belonging to a much-neglected caste within the Hindu community — was quoted as saying by The New York Times when elected.

Kumari had a tough childhood when she and her family were held for three years as bonded labourers in a private jail allegedly owned by the landlord of Umerkot district’s Kunri. They were set free in a police raid.

“We didn’t know what rights we have and even if we should ask for them or not as our people used to think that our conditions were our fate,” the ex-senator said.

“I used to think the same but as I received education, […] I got to know that working under someone or what was happening with us was wrong.”

Her parents facilitated her and her brother Veerji’s studies despite the difficulties they faced. Married off at the young age of 16, Kumari attributes her success to the support she received from her parents and in-laws — a story rarely heard in Pakistan’s villages.

The lone girl at school

As a girl growing up in a remote area where education was not prevalent, Kumari was a pioneer for other girls in her community. “I used to be the only girl among all the boys who would go to the school with my brother,” Kumari recalled.

“My parents did not even know what education was. Till today, I cannot understand how my father even considered the idea of sending me to school,” she said.

Stressing the importance of being determined in one’s actions, she emphasised, “Once you resolve that you have to get ahead, then there aren’t any obstacles in your path and you also get support.”

“Education is almost non-existent in our community,” Kumari said. When her parents received a marriage proposal for her when she had completed eighth grade, it might have spelled the end to her education.

But as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. The rights activist said her father-in-law assured her parents that they would let her continue her studies. Kumari appreciated her husband and mother-in-law as well for being supportive of her.

“Sometimes he would take an off from school, sometimes I would,” she described how the couple would manage their studies and personal lives simultaneously.

Kumari said her daughter was just a month old when she sat for her ninth grade exams. Nevertheless, the new mother continued her studies — juggling them with her family responsibilities like many working women do. “I would go to my university after dropping off my daughter at her school.”

Encouraged and supported by a trailblazer like her mother, Kumari’s eldest daughter has completed her M Phil degree and her second daughter has done an MBBS. Her son and a third daughter are currently enrolled in university.

Raising awareness on social issues

“My brother and I thought to start working for people. We started social work in 2008 and also got an NGO (non-governmental organisation) registered,” Kumari said.

She has worked as the chairperson and project director of Development, Awareness and Management of Natural Resources (Daman), a non-profit civil society organisation.

She recalled working with Alliance Against Social Harassment at Workplace (Aasha) and on a 2010 bill that made the harassment of women a crime — which was not just a legal milestone but also encouraged discussion on the topic.

“We don’t even like to mention the topic in public and ignore it by labelling it a ‘social vice’. They put a curtain on it saying ‘don’t talk about it as it would lead to our defamation’,” Kumari said.

“After the law was enacted, we had to work on implementing it in the entire country,” she said, adding that she used to hold talks and counsel people facing various social issues at a legal aid centre in Hyderabad that she headed.

Counselling was not the only aspect of Kumari’s work. Working with the culture department, she used to bring groups of women to Lok Virsa, where they would perform dandiya dances to the beats of drums.

While her brother won a union council election and joined the PPP in 2014, Kumari entered Pakistan’s political scene in 2018 when she also joined the same party.

Climbing up the Senate stairs

There is no shortage of problems faced by women in Pakistan in both their personal and professional lives. For Kumari, there was the added challenge of navigating political waters as a member of a minority community.

“As we have a patriarchal system, of course, women are kept caged in a box — ‘don’t go outside alone; if a few people would sit together [and talk], what would they say’,” she said, echoing what many women around the country have to hear.

However, Kumari said she had a “good time” during her Senate tenure. “I never felt that I am from so and so area or from a minority or that someone pressured us or kept us caged in a box,” she said.

Speaking about her party, she said, “I have never felt [marginalised] within the party. They never let me feel like a minority.”

 Krishna Kumari arrives at Parliament with her parents on March 12, 2018. — Tanveer Shahzad / White Star
Krishna Kumari arrives at Parliament with her parents on March 12, 2018. — Tanveer Shahzad / White Star

Noting that there was now a “good ratio” of women in Parliament and the provincial assemblies, she said that “conditions in Pakistan for women have improved compared to other Asian countries”.

There is still a long way to go, as, according to IPU Parline, the percentage of women in the Senate has slightly increased from 16 per cent to 19pc from 2012-2021. For the National Assembly, the percentage has remained stagnant at around 20pc for the previous three tenures.

Standing up for her community

From forced conversions and marriages to kidnappings, Sindh and the its minority residents have for years been plagued by serious issues that still require concrete solutions.

Of course, a top priority for Kumari was reducing the dangers faced by her community.

The rights activist lamented the rejection of a 2021 bill against forced conversions by a parliamentary committee after it faced opposition from certain lawmakers.

“I wanted with all my heart that it had gotten passed as I don’t think it was harmful to anyone,” she said, adding that its approval could have solved many issues faced by the Hindu community.

“It was just like a bill for domestic violence or harassment. Similarly, issues faced by minorities would have been solved. Yeh dukh hai mujhe [This saddens me],” an audibly dejected Kumari said.

However, keeping her hopes high and with her usual determination, the former senator said she would introduce the bill again if she got a chance to do so.

Speaking up for everyone

Kumari’s actions have been loud and clear in declaring that her activism is not just for the minorities in Pakistan but for every person who is being wronged and treated unjustly.

While she chaired her first Senate session on Women’s Day in 2019, it was the session on Kashmir Day in 2022 — the second chaired by her — that left an indelible mark on her career, having been reported in Indian media as well.

“It was a slap on their face that [a woman from a community] that is not even 3pc [of the population] is chairing the Upper House of Pakistan on such a day. In my opinion, there cannot be a bigger shameful thing for Modi,” the ex-senator slammed the Indian prime minister.

 Senator Krishna Kumari chairs a Senate session on Feb 4, 2022. — DawnNewsTV
Senator Krishna Kumari chairs a Senate session on Feb 4, 2022. — DawnNewsTV

“What India is doing with the minorities, I wanted to give them and Modi the message that what you are doing is wrong. They also have rights, [including] the right to live and move freely,” Kumari said resolutely.

Expressing how glad she was to get the opportunity, she said, “If I see that there is injustice taking place somewhere… my heart is very weak so if something is happening somewhere, I end up crying.”

And it’s not just human rights violations that Kumar speaks up against. Her work has also extended to protecting nature and heritage.

In August last year, she tabled a resolution asking the government to declare the Karoonjhar Mountain Range in Tharparkar a national heritage site and a national park for wildlife conservation. The resolution was passed by the Senate.

‘A lot to work on’

While her tenure as a senator may have ended, Kumari remains resolute in her mission to continue her social awareness activities and improve the living conditions of the people in her hometown.

“My work is ongoing in Tharparkar […] There are a lot of things that need to be worked on,” she said, adding that her focus currently is on education and maternal health.

Recalling work done by the PPP in the area, she said, “Roads have been constructed but more work is needed as the area is huge. […] Providing various villages with access to drinking water is also needed.”

Stories like Kumari’s are rarerly heard in Pakistan, where tribes, business, family, caste and so many other things influence mainstream politics. Here’s to hoping that Pakistan sees a greater representation of minorities because issues faced by them — and this country — cannot be solved without grass-root efforts.

This March, Images is profiling trailblazing women who are stirring change in our society. Women who inspire us and women who make us proud. You can read all our stories on inspiring Pakistani women here.

Trailblazers and change makers


Ishrat Hyatt Mar 22, 2024 10:50am
Great example of perseverance and 'Where there is a will, there is a way!' I wish they had nominated her again.
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Taj Ahmad Mar 22, 2024 11:18am
My salute to all people of Thar specially women on their hard work for our Thar district in Sindh Province.
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Naveed Mar 22, 2024 11:49am
Salute to Ms. Kumari. Well done.
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Zulfiqar Ansari Mar 22, 2024 11:57am
I wanted to take a moment to express my deepest admiration for your work in advocating for women's rights. Your dedication to equality, especially as a woman from a minority religion, is truly inspiring.
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No one Mar 22, 2024 12:01pm
From "Bonded Labor to Senate", truly an inspiration of courage and perseverance. PPP must be lauded too for their choice.
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Syed Hasni Mar 22, 2024 02:21pm
Hindu is derived from Sindhu (Indus River considered holy) in Pakistan. The land has played an important part in the origin of Hinduism. Hindus may be small numerically (once 20% now they are mere 1.85%) but Pakistan has fifth largest population. Sindh played an important role in Mahabharata. Legend has it that Lahore city was founded by Luv and Kasur by Kush (both sons of Ram). Cities Peshawar and Multan have Sanskrit roots. Hindus contribution towards the making of Pakistan can never be negated. The founding fathers of Pakistan has their ancestral roots in Hinduism, who were all convers from Hinduism. M. A Jinnah was born to Mithibai and Jinnahbahi Poonja who moved from Gujrat to Sindh Congratulations to my sister Krishna and welcome to the family !!
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Rebirth Mar 22, 2024 04:05pm
Did she do anything about the forced conversions forcing her people to migrate to India or Karachi? Karachi being a place where the PPP has never won and will never win any seat except Lyari primarily because of the Gabol family. That’s probably why her people migrate there to escape persecution in Sindh.
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Amitava Ghosh Mar 22, 2024 04:50pm
Kudos to her tenacity !!
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Susanta Bandyopadhyay Mar 22, 2024 04:52pm
Work for humanity
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shyam Mar 22, 2024 05:09pm
My sincere congratulations for the support from her countrymen. voice of voiceless reverberate.
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Abid Mar 22, 2024 05:14pm
Great achievement and fantastic work been done. I wish you all the best in future also. Please continue to raise voice for the minority of India also.
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Ehsan Mar 22, 2024 07:06pm
Hope to see and read about more such strong willed trailblazer women
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HashBrown® Mar 22, 2024 07:47pm
Forget all the fake American "me too" hypocrites - Ms Kumari is a true feminist and my personal inspiration. May she continue to shine for the sake of her parents and for all of Pakistan.
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Saraj Mar 22, 2024 08:13pm
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jay tuli Mar 22, 2024 09:28pm
Great Woman. The new government must include her in the cabinet,
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Maharaj Razdan Mar 22, 2024 11:23pm
WOW. .
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Imran Ahmed Mar 23, 2024 10:11am
It has been a long time since I felt pride in my country's rulers & politicians. Today I feel such pride.
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sk Mar 23, 2024 11:11am
great women very rare personality
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Razi Mar 23, 2024 11:48am
Indeed a HERO
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Saad Hasnain Mar 23, 2024 04:37pm
What a wonderful story of determination. She deserves all ,she achieved.
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DrHeman Mar 23, 2024 06:11pm
She is great example It is incredible how far you have come while dragging the weight of your past life (from ancient to modern life). Most women would barely survive your life, but you have made it into something beautiful how to get your education and also gave awareness among female .
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DrHeman Mar 23, 2024 07:24pm
Iron Lady , Most women would barely survive your life, but you have made it into something beautiful how to get your education and also gave awareness among female .
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