Veero Kohli, is the first contestant in General elections in Pakistan to have escaped the thrall of a feudal-style land owner who forced his workers to work in conditions akin to modern-day slavery. In a rural area of Sindh Veero escaped from her captors in the middle of the night and had to walk a long way barefoot, to seek help. After a long ordeal, she finally succeeded in ensuring her own freedom and 39 other labourers including her family. She took the terrifying risk to ensure the safety of her daughters. She feared that the landlord would sexually abuse her daughter.
Her courage and bravery won her the Fredrick Douglas Freedom Award. Following her daring escape, Veero launched a movement for the abolition of slavery in Pakistan. Veero has successfully lobbied for the release of thousands of others from the pool of indebted workers in Sindh, her native province. The vast majority of these bonded labour victims are Hindus. Now she plans to run in the May elections against powerful and wealthy male candidates, who have a strong hold on the constituents.
Religious minorities are amongst the most vulnerable groups in Pakistan for persecution, discrimination and bonded labour due to Islamic militancy and political instability. According to one report*, there are three to eight million people working as bonded labourers against bogus debts, especially in rural and sub-urban areas, even though it is illegal in Pakistan. The actual number of bonded labourers remains a rough estimate due to the fact that the brick kilns and farms are often not registered and the people working there with their whole families, including children, are mostly not registered either, lacking any form of identity papers.
Veero’s journey is a remarkable one. Whether she wins the election or not, she is setting an incredible example of courage and freedom. Even though she lacks the customary wealth to enter Pakistani politics, she has become a symbol of hope, not just for the bonded labourers and religious minorities, but also the largely invisible rural underclass that are considered property of the feudal lords of their respective regions.
1-Human Rights Commission Annual Report 2010