PESHAWAR: A Peshawar High Court bench on Monday ordered the quashing of an FIR against seven people, who had allegedly invoked a customary practice ‘ghag’ against a woman in Kohat district as one of the suspects claimed that the woman was already married to him and the matter was pending with a family court for decision.

Justice Waqar Ahmad Seth and Justice Mussarat Hilali accepted the petition filed by the suspects, including Gohar Ayub, who claimed that the woman complaint who had lodged FIR against them was his wife, and six other people, including his father and a nikkah registrar.

‘Ghag’ is an old customary practice in vogue in parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Through it, a man makes a declaration in a locality that a particular girl is engaged to him and nobody else should seek her hand for marriage.

In 2013, the then provincial government had enacted the KP Elimination of the Custom of Ghag Act 2013 on the directives of the high court and declared it an offence.

Amin Khattak Lachi, lawyer for the petitioners, said his clients were accused of invoking the practice of ‘ghag’ by creating hindrance to nikkah of the complainant with Junaid Iqbal.

He said the complainant had alleged in the FIR that the petitioners, including Gohar Ayub, had prepared a forged nikkahnama (marriage deed) on the basis of which Gohar Ayub and his family members had been trying to foil any attempt of her marriage with any other person.

The lawyer said the FIR was registered under Section 5 of the Elimination of the Custom of Ghag Act and sections 419 and 420 of Pakistan Penal Code.

He added that one of the petitioners, Sohail Khan, was arrested in the case and had been behind bars, whereas the high court had granted interim pre-arrest bails to other suspects.

The lawyer said the nikkah of petitioner Gohar Ayub and complainant Najma Nasreen was held with consent of both families and that there were witnesses to the said nikkah, including nikkah registrar Maulvi Nasreen.

He added that the complainant later disowned the said nikkah and instead registered a fictitious case against the petitioners on Jan 16, 2016 at Shakardara police station.

Mr. Amin said the issue had now been pending before a family court in Kohat.

He added that the said court would decide the authenticity of the nikkahnama (marriage deed) under the Muslim Family Laws Ordinance.

The lawyer added that unless that case was decided, the impugned FIR couldn’t be registered.

The state prosecutor and counsel for the complainant contended that the marriage deed was bogus and was in fact aimed at restraining the complainant from marrying any other person.

In the law, ‘ghag’ is defined as “a custom, usage, tradition or practice whereby a person forcibly demands or claims the hand of a woman, without her own or her parents’ or wali’s will and free consent, by making an open declaration either by words spoken or written or by visible representation or by an imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly, in a locality or before public in general that the woman shall stand engaged to him or any other particular man and that no other man shall make a marriage proposal to her or marry her, threatening her parents and other relatives to refrain from giving her hand in marriage to any other person, and shall also include obstructing the marriage of such woman in any other manner pursuant to such declaration .”

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2016