ISLAMABAD, Jan 23: Social activism saved an eight-year-old girl in Mardan district from being given in marriage under the custom of Sawara to pay for the murder committed by her uncle.

Samar Minallah, an anthropologist working in the area, told Dawn that the girl’s family backed out of the Sawara deal when she told them that the Supreme Court was to adjudicate on the customs of “Vani” and “Sawara” which made the matter sub- judice. The custom of Sawara is a dispute settlement in which, instead of blood money, young girls of offender’s family are given in marriage to victim’s family as compensation for the crime committed by their male relatives.

Recently, in Mayaar (Mardan), Ms Minallah said, the proceedings of an ongoing jirga of village elders were intervened by her along with two local women councillors as the eight-year- old Marina was to be given as Sawara for a murder committed by her uncle.

Five years ago, Ms Minallah said, a man named Arif was killed by his first cousin Altaf. Altaf was provoked when Arif taunted him for allegedly letting visitors into his house to flirt with his sister. As a result Altaf got infuriated and shot his cousin dead. Since then, he is absconding.

When the issue was taken up by the local jirga (village council), it asked the family of the accused for a house, Rs300,000 and a girl.

Since the sisters of the accused were already married, one of the uncles was to give his eight-year-old daughter to the deceased’s family.

Ms Minallah said, Fazlullah, the father of the girl, broke into tears, when she visited his house since Marina was his only daughter and that he did not want her to go as Sawara.

“Since the life of a Sawara girl is a curse, I do not want her to suffer for the rest of her life,” he said.

However, when local elders gathered in the village “hujra,” Ms Minallah, accompanied by two women councillors, asked for permission to speak. She told them about the petition recently filed by her and five girls given as Vani against the custom of Sawara and Vani, and subsequent directions of the apex court to the inspectors generals of the NWFP and Punjab to protect girls in their respective provinces from the cruel customs.

The court will resume hearing of the petition on February 24.

The jirga was also briefed on the basis of the petition, she said, adding that not only did the jirga take back the decision, but also assured her that in the final decision, they would not demand a girl as compensation.

Ms Minallah said when the girl’s father was given the good news, he said he had no idea that even the government was against this cruel and inhuman custom. He also praised the government for freeing them of the cruel custom.

Another girl, Tayyaba, 20, was found dead in mysterious circumstances in Gumbat Banda (Mardan) a month after she was married off as Sawara for a murder committed by her uncle in December 2005.

The whole village knew, Ms Minallah claimed, Tayyaba was poisoned by her in-laws who could not help but abhor her for being enemies’ daughter.

Despite pleading in front of family members for not marrying her to a man who would treat her like an enemy, Tayyaba, who had done matriculation, could not change her fate, Ms Minallah lamented.

There are numerous such cases, she said, like in September 2005, two sisters, Shagufta Bibi and Zaitoon Bibi, who had recently started their own “Dastkari” (handicrafts) centre, were forced to go as compensation for a crime committed by their brother in Sikandari, also in Mardan.

A few months ago, a little girl was given away as compensation in Sher Khana, Pallai Union Council, Malakand.

Likewise, 17-year-old Rubina, belonging to Kas Koroona (Mardan), died in mysterious circumstances. Rubina had been given away as compensation for a crime committed by her father. She was given a place to sleep in the animal shed.

Here again, the villagers know she was poisoned by her in- laws, Ms Minallah claimed.

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