Wani or swara
declared un-Islamic

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By Malik Asad

The Federal Shariat Court (FSC) has declared the custom of swara as un-Islamic. A three-judge bench, headed by FSC Chief Justice Noor Mohammad Meskenzai, observed that the tradition of giving away a minor girl to settle disputes was against the injunctions of Islam.

Taking up a petition filed by one Sakeena Bibi, the bench held that Ulema had developed a consensus that vani, or swara, was against the teachings of Islam.

Swara is a custom where girls, often minors, are given in marriage or servitude to an aggrieved family as compensation to end disputes, often murder. It is a form of arranged or forced child marriage and the result of punishment decided by a council of tribal elders called jirga.

The petitioner, a concerned citizen, challenged the custom of vani for many reasons. According to the petition, the tradition which is being practiced in jirgas and panchayat — the traditional fora for dispute resolution — usurps the fundamental rights of a woman or young girl.

Razia spent as a victim of Swara for seven years

It argued that jirga or panchayat misconstrued the concept ‘badl-i-sulah’ — compensation to settle a dispute by offering a young girl to the aggrieved family. The petitioner requested the court to declare this custom as illegal.

Dr Mohammad Aslam Khaki, Jurist Consult at FSC, said vani violated at least four fundamental rights. According to him, since the girl is offered by the accused family, she in most of the cases is deprived of even basic facilities, hence subjected to discrimination.

Secondly, she is wedded to a man without her consent. Thirdly, she is not entitled to dower, and fourthly, she cannot file legal suit for khula — dissolution of marriage.

According to Dr Khaki, the legitimate way to settle a murder is payment of diyat or blood money, which is acceptable in Islam; however, traditional forums for dispute resolution consider vani or swara as legitimate way to settle dispute. But Ulema do not accept the practice as Islamic.

Fazal Khaliq narrated an ordeal of swara victim Razia in Dawn on April 22, 2016.

For Razia, the seven years she spent as a victim of Swara, a child marriage custom to settle blood feuds, are the ugliest and harshest of her life.

Born in Peshawar and currently living in Swat with adoptive parents, the 27-year-old says her Swara days were full of physical and psychological abuse.

She strongly feels had her parents been educated, she would have not undergone the ordeal.

This woman was used to settle a dispute between her uncle and a family in Punjab in line with Swara.

According to her, she was adopted by an issueless family of Pabbo area in Peshawar at the age of six years following the death of parents.

“When I was 12, my paternal uncle murdered a policeman in Punjab. To prevent punishment, he asked my adoptive father to marry me off to a member of the deceased’s family to make up for the murder.

“I was playing with children in the street when my adoptive father called me. I entered home with muddy hands. After my adoptive mother cleaned me, I was handed over to two strangers, who took me to a village somewhere in Gujranwala,” she said.

Razia added that at a house, where I was taken to, the two declared an old man already present there her husband though she didn’t even understand the husband-wife relationship at that time.

She said from then on, the ugliest and ugliest days of her life began as every member of the family subjected her to violence.

“They (in-laws) beat me up with sticks and even used knife to hurt me. They often sprinkled salt over my wounds. No part of my body is without scars,” she said, adding that she was unaware of her faults.

According to Razia, she was often denied food by the family.

“There were some children in the family, who are of my age. They’re good to me. They often gave me food secretly though,” she said.

The woman gave birth to a girl infuriating her husband and in-laws, who treated her harshly at the arrival of the ‘unwelcome’ child.

She said many times, villagers tried in vain to stop the family from torturing her on hearing her cry.

“For four years, no member of my real family contacted me. One day, my father showed up at my place but my husband didn’t treat him well, so returned unhappily,” she recalled.

According to Razia, seven years after marriage, her husband died but in-laws continued with violence against her prompting the adoptive father to take her back. After sometime, she along with adoptive parents shifted to Shamozo area of Swat.

Though the harsh days of her life are over, Razia remembers them as a nightmare.

She appeals to parents ‘not to push daughters into a dungeon by following the Swara custom.’

Currently, she is learning sewing and hand embroidery in the Shama Vocational Centre in Saidu Sharif in a bid to stand on her own two feet.

“After undergoing vocational training, I will educate my daughter for better future,” she said, adding that education was necessary for girls as it is for boys.

“Had my parents been educated, they would have never agreed to me making up for my uncle’s sin,” she said.