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What it means to defy vani

January 28, 2006

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MULTAN, Jan 27: Some furtive moves by the Mianwali police have strengthened the doubts of a family that it will be ‘punished’ for coming out against the draconian custom of vani.

Under this custom prevalent in the semi-tribal district of Mianwali, the girls are given in marriage to the men of the rival clan as a trade-off to strike deals, especially in the matters pertaining to bloody feuds.

Marriages of Amna Niazi, her two sisters and two cousins were decided some 10 years ago when they were underage at Sultanwala village of Mianwali to secure release of their uncle Iqbal Khan, who at that time was behind the bars for killing a man in the name of honour.

On attaining adolescence, the girls led by Amna, however, refused to be made scapegoat for no fault of theirs.

Amna’s father Jahan Khan, who is a government servant, also mustered courage and not only wholeheartedly backed his daughters and nieces but also became the torch-bearer of their campaign against the pitiless tradition of vani. In the middle of November last year, he gave numerous interviews to the national and international media to raise voice against the callous tradition, as Amna’s educational background and refusal to become vani had hit the headlines here and abroad.

A student of MA English at a college in neighbouring Khushab district, Amna attributed her courage to her father’s firm stand against the deep-rooted custom in the male-dominated society. Her revolt encouraged dozens of other girls to say no to their matrimonial ties decided without their consent.

In some cases, the police took action under the amended clauses of the law (310-A PPC) that holds the followers of vani tradition punishable up to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment. But in the Amna Niazi case, the police were not inclined to take action against those who were allegedly forcing the girls to be married according to the ‘agreement’.

Jahan Khan had apprehended in his statements that the Mianwali police might be nurturing a grudge against him for exposing the evil of vani, which is being patronized by the police.

Several media teams had gone to Mianwali to report what was being billed as a ‘revolutionary’ matter as more and more girls were standing against the vani tradition.

Talking to newsmen, Mianwali DPO Zaraat Kiyani had, however, dispelled the impression that the police were harbouring ill-will against Jahan Khan. “How can any action be taken against him when he is also supporting his daughters,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court while taking action on Dec 15 directed the police to provide security to Amna, her sisters and cousins, and submit a report that how many incidents of vani and sawara were there in the Punjab and the NWFP.

Jahan Khan’s fears, however, proved true when earlier this month the Mianwali police uncovered an FIR (No 179) lodged with the Musakhel police station under section 310-A and 109 PPC against him, his brothers and some men from their rival group. The FIR was bearing date of Nov 23, 2005, but it was kept ‘secret’ owing to the reasons best known to the police authorities in Mianwali.

Jahan Khan alleged that the police kept the FIR secret to let the media representation of the vani issue against which he and his daughters stood firm fade away. In the FIR, the police claimed that they had got information that the parents of the girls and their prospective grooms were working out a plan to solemnize marriages under the tradition of vani, which was against section 310-A PPC.

He said the police intentions to teach him a lesson were conspicuous from the contents of the FIR, as he and his daughters had been crying for the government and the Supreme Court intervention before national and international media prior to registration of the FIR. He said the police had raided his house in Sultanwala to arrest him, but incidentally he was in Khushab at that time.

The police arrested his brother Iqbal and another brother, Razzaq, was arrested later after cancellation of his interim bail in the case. From the rival group, Muhammad Aslam was held while a court confirmed pre-arrest bails of the rest of the accused from this side. Bail applications of Iqbal, Razzaq and Aslam were rejected on Thursday by the court.

DPO Zaraat Kiyani could not be contacted as he was in Lahore to attend a provincial meeting on law and order situation ahead of Muharram. Musakhel DSP Malik Iqbal, however, said the police knew how to deal with the issue.

“The apex court didn’t stop us from arresting Jahan Khan or anybody else,” was his reply when asked about the Supreme Court direction in the Amna Niazi case. He added that the DPO had appeared before the apex court in this matter.

DSP Iqbal did not say anything when inquired that had the police brought the FIR against Amna Niazi’s father and uncles on record before the apex court.