Pakistan: "Daughters Bear the Cost of Pakistan's Family Feuds"

Globe and Mail via WUNRN
Vani is a forced marriage custom in the tribal areas and province of Punjab, in Pakistan. This custom is tied to blood feuds among the different tribes and clans where the girls are forcibly married to the members of different clans to resolve feuds.
"It started with a badly behaved dog but by the time the bitter quarrel was over, 20 people had been killed and 15 girls, the youngest only three years old, were to be given in "marriage" to a rival tribe to settle the dispute.
The handing over of girls is an ancient custom in some parts of Pakistan, but the fate of the 15 girls, in this case, has prompted a furious outrage.

"The murderer gets away. It is his daughter, his sister, his niece, that pays the price," said Samar Minallah, a human-rights activist based in Islamabad. "The girl has to pay the price for the rest of her life."

Although the tradition governing the handoff of the girls -- involving a ceremony in which the other tribe formally claims the girls by laying a scarf or dupatta on their heads -- provides for them to live at home until they are 18, many observers believe the girls will not be permitted that luxury.

"Once the dupatta is laid on the girls, they become the personal property of the [other tribe] and they can take them away when they want," said Indadullah Khoso, the local co-ordinator of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

According to human-rights activists, girls in such cases are poorly treated by their new families because they are thought to be tainted by shame. They can be subject to rape while they are still minors.

Vani or swara, as the custom is called, usually involves the daughters of illiterate and poor people, who do not have money or other assets that can be used as compensation. Ms. Minallah said although vani is illegal, the settlements are often ordered by rich local landowners who adjudicate disputes and who are educated people; some are members of parliament. Police and local administration officials rarely intervene.

There are different stories about how the dispute in this case started, but a dog was certainly involved. It belonged to the Chakrani tribe and offended the neighbouring Qalandari clan either by biting a Qalandari or one of their donkeys or, as one version has it, by simply drinking from a Qalandari well.

What no one disputes is that the dog was shot dead by the Qalandaris. That was in 2000. The conflict escalated from that point through tit-for-tat killings until 20 people were dead, mostly Qalandaris. Among the dead were five women.

Akbar Bugti, a tribal grandee from the area, settled the dispute, through the traditional tribal meeting known as a jirga. In 2002, Mr. Bugti decreed that the Chakranis hand over the girls, ruling that they had done significantly more killing than had the Qalandaris.

That decision was not implemented, however, and the dispute festered. It was last month before another jirga was convened, which confirmed Mr. Bugti's judgment.

Noor Ali, whose three daughters are to be given away, said in an interview that he accepted the verdict.

"I think it is right," Mr. Ali said, speaking by telephone from his village in the Jaffarabad area. "This is our culture." He said his daughters were aged 3, 6 and 7.

It is unclear whether the decision has now been enforced, as local media attention has frightened the tribesmen.

The national and provincial government, after being pressed by media, pledged to take action against those involved in the case; but so far, it seems, no one has been punished.

Shazia Marri, a member of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party and a provincial minister in Sindh, said: "We have always condemned such atrocious acts. Unfortunately, this kind of system has strengthened in certain pockets in Sindh. ... There are steps being taken to catch hold of the culprits."

The case occurred in an area around the Kashmore and Jaffarabad districts, on the border between the southern provinces of Sindh and Balochistan.

Landowners, some of whom are involved in vani, are a major part of the hierarchy of the Pakistan Peoples Party. There are at least two current lawmakers from the PPP who are accused of involvement in vani cases.

MP Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani was alleged to be involved in a jirga deciding a vani case in Jacobabad, Sindh, where five girls were handed over in compensation for a murder. Last year, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered his arrest. He not only remains free, but the People's Party again chose him as their candidate for the 2008 elections.

"He might have been associated with the people in the jirga, but he says he was not present at the time," Ms. Marri said.

By: Saeed Shah

Source: The Globe and Mail (Canada)

10 June 2008