Young women from the province frequently publish announcements in Sindhi newspapers declaring their intention to marry of their own free will. – Photo by Dawn

HYDERABAD: Honour killings and forced marriages in Sindh receive wide attention in the national media. What is less well-known is that young women from the province frequently publish announcements in Sindhi newspapers declaring their intention to marry of their own free will.

As a way of fending off allegations that they have been kidnapped or have committed adultery, it is a bold move by these women but is known to few people beyond the readership of these regional papers.

Shabana Khatoon, 23, of Bhango Behan in Khairpur district, declares in widely circulated Sindhi daily Kawish that her parents wanted to sell her to an older man for marriage. Ms Khatoon’s announcement is a summary of an attested affidavit she had a lawyer prepare for her and explains that she decided to run away and marry another man, Ghulam Murtaza Burero, in accordance with Islamic law.

She adds that no one has kidnapped her and that she is making the declaration as an adult in full possession of her senses. In case her parents register a case against her, her husband or his parents, it should be considered fake. Her statement, she says, is meant for purposes of record in case her parents move against her.

Shakeela Sheikh of Umerkot district also seeks protection through an announcement in the same paper, stating that she is divorced and left her parents’ house to marry Ali Ghulam Chandio when they tried to get her remarried against her will. Guddi of Badin announces that her parents got her engaged to Asghar Ali, who used to bear the expenses of her family, but now want to marry her off to a man offering better compensation.

Couples like Ms Shabana and Mr Burero normally first contact a lawyer who prepares an affidavit based on their story that is attested by a judicial magistrate or notary public. They then have a nikah and announce it by publishing an advertisement commonly titled “dhiyan talab” (“seeking attention”) or “qasam namo” (“sworn affidavit”). Some approach a local court to solemnise their marriages, also asking for protection from their families for fear of being declared karo-kari.

A study carried out by Kawish shows that an average of four to five couples announce these free-will marriages in the paper each day, and an executive in charge of advertisements there says this number can be as high as eight or nine a day. The men and women belong to a wide range of districts, tribes and castes of Sindh, including its Hindu communities, although most do not come from affluent families.

Couples who come to the newspaper’s officers are sometimes too poor to afford regular rates, are often scared for their lives, and sometimes send a relative or lawyer instead of risking a visit themselves. Before publishing the advertisements the newspaper asks for signatures and NICs from the couples, attested affidavits, and photographs of the women involved.

Mayaram Rathi, a manager who handles advertising for daily Ibrat, explains that this is not a new phenomenon and that such advertisements have been published for the last three decades. They include various kinds of cases ranging from teenage girls being forced to marry much older men, women being forced to marry men they don’t know and parents breaking engagements for monetary reasons.

In some instances the announcements are published by Hindu girls who have chosen Muslim husbands. They declare that they have converted to Islam, often adding that they were inspired by Muslim neighbours they had been visiting since their childhoods. One reason for the women to opt for this bold step is to prevent harassment by police or simply to seek the protection of law enforcers and the judicial system from their families, who lodge FIRs of theft or kidnapping, pressurise the couples through their communities or seek the help of jirgas.

But according to social worker Lala Hassan Pathan, who has been working on cases of violence against women and free-will marriages for the last seven years, police seldom take note of these announcements or keep them on record. The couples themselves send clippings to local police officers, who rarely take action based on them and sometimes register kidnapping cases on the parents’ behalf despite the existence of these declarations under oath.

According to Mr Pathan, men who end up in police custody for kidnapping in such cases are often tortured while the women are pressurised and sometimes taken away by parents with the knowledge of police. Judges in lower courts, he says, also tend to be unsympathetic towards the couples in free-will cases.

According to women’s rights activist Arfana Mallah, however, the attitude of the lower judiciary towards women is changing and lawyers are now able to go to court with these affidavits without needing the support of NGOs or influential members of civil society.

On the other hand, she says, the publication of these announcements may provoke parents and other relatives and has been followed by the women’s deaths in some instances. Using the media is a double-edged sword for the women of Sindh; the same declarations that can save them from honour killings can also leave them vulnerable to even more angry reprisals.

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Comments (15) (Closed)


yasir altaf
Sep 03, 2011 05:33am
Parents and guardians should not force their children to marry against their (children's) will. However children should avoid liberal extremism and they should respect the advice of parents if it is in bounds to Islam.
Muhammad Farooq
Sep 03, 2011 09:47am
It is such a sad and sorry commentary on the state of affairs related to young women/girls especially in Sindh. O boy! such ignoramus ppl live in our society who are ready to do anything even to kill and maim their own daughters/sisters for the sake of so called honor or to make money out of their miseries. There should be more strict and stringent laws to prevent sale of young women/girls by their merciless parents and so called guardians. From the above report it is clear that lots of partiality exists against the interests of young women/girls merely because they don't want to obey unfair orders of their parents / so called guardians. I believe the government should have monitoring cells in such locations consisting of reps from NGOs and civil society and a constant watch should be kept on related happenings. Access to these cells should be made easy for the to-be-victims or victims of parents' cruelty. Thanks for publishing this report.
shabana
Sep 03, 2011 11:03am
Free-will is an illusion and behaviour is determined by psychological and social circumstances; e.g. I may think a decision to dye my hair blonde is an exercise of my free-will but really social pressure to conform to a stereotype of desirability and youth which dictates blonde is ‘beautiful’ has influenced my decision.
Blitzer
Sep 03, 2011 11:42am
I am not surprised one bit that the police and lower judiciary don't afford much protection to these couples. It is absolutely unacceptable when people who are supposed to interpret the constitution and uphold the rule of law let their own personal biases and prejudices cloud their judgement of what is right and what is wrong.
Shakeel GHOURI
Sep 03, 2011 12:47pm
Thanks for bringing such valuable information and making us aware about this mysterious phenomenon. Parents should be respected and obeyed by their children, as it is their courteous, legal and fundamental right. But when the parents treat their children in such oppressive ways against their will and interest then children are no more obliged, to follow the behest of their parents or guardians, by any law. In the case of all above mentioned circumstances including, when the parents intend to sale their daughters/sisters or marry them to older men against their will; one should do ones best to secure oneself either announcing ones will by the means of media or approaching to court to seek justice. The cases of karo kari on the name of honor are still being noticed. Those who can not access to court or media before they take such steps, according to their will, are often fall victim of such brutalities. Government should take strict notice of such issues because it is the primary responsibility of a state to provide security and justice to its nation.
shafi
Sep 03, 2011 02:46pm
Advice or coercion are not the same
shahid
Sep 03, 2011 03:13pm
Couple should consider wether will this relation work long or end up in worst past memories thats main thing before they are going to take such action against their parents will i know in early ages love becomes valuable but slowly with pace of time it becomes headache of life mistakes taken senselessly
Sunny
Sep 03, 2011 05:54pm
Thank you Dawn and the writer for shedding more light on this issue. I have read the above write-up with great interest. However, I have a suggestion to make. The whole point of this write-up was to show respect for those who dare to break away from repressive attitudes and "tradition" therefore, I for one, would have avoided using the expression "run away and marry." I would have preferred to use "decided to leave their parents or home" or any other expression which would not seem to cast a bad light on these individuals involved. I believe the expression "run away" does give a negative impression, which is to be avoided, and in fact is the crux of the whole argument. This is a personal observation/suggestion.
Siddique Malik
Sep 03, 2011 06:54pm
I am proud of these brave women. They are standing up to the forces of suppression and backwardness. Perhaps, it's the start of a process that will bloom into a full-fledged struggle against the cancers of Mulllah-ism, ignorance, corruption, abuse of power, etc. Not allowing an adult person to make his/her personal decisions is a form of corruption and abuse of power. I wish the society could replicate the courage of these brave women and stand up to its abusers and tormentors that exist under various covers. Siddique Malik, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
Striver
Sep 03, 2011 11:35pm
CREATIVELY fighting for her rights. One of the characteristics of a Pakistani woman.
mohammed
Sep 03, 2011 11:48pm
If anyone agrees with Shabana, then there is no point to living and we might as well all commit suicide. What would be the point of God putting us on this earth if free will was not a part of this glorious thing called life? While it's true that socialization does play a factor in our choices, it doesn't mean that everything is fated. These parents have a choice to persecute and kill their own flesh and blood, or to accept that their children may make choices they don't agree with. Similarly, these young couples have a choice to live a life of misery and oppression, or to take a brave step towards an independent life. Either way, there is always a choice.
Mona
Sep 04, 2011 01:34am
Good for them! No one can fight for women's rights better than the women themselves.
Ajaya K Dutt
Sep 04, 2011 07:27am
If the couple is adult, then they should be free to live the way they want to. However if the girl is minor, then law should restore the girl back to her parents.
lyta
Sep 05, 2011 08:22am
Until there is a change in law parents will continue to feel they "own" their offspring and in this culture raising a woman is an expense only recompensed when she marries. Males bring dowries into the family. This is what needs to change.
Lala Hassan
Sep 17, 2011 04:20pm
Its very important issue. Story focuses on different aspect of the situation in Sindh.