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ISLAMABAD, Feb 24: The Supreme Court on Friday again ordered inspectors-general of police of the four provinces and the Northern Areas to protect women from the un-Islamic customs of “vani” and “sawara” and urged prompt and effective action to stop these practices.

A three-member bench comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Faqir Khokhar and Justice Shakirullah Jan also directed the police authorities and local administration to submit reports in this regard.

The court had given police high-ups a similar instruction to protect women in its December 16, 2005, order.

The court was jointly hearing cases of five girls from Mianwali who have appealed to President Pervez Musharraf and the chief justice to save them from the cruel social rite of vani which was recently declared unlawful and the petition of a freelance anthropologist Samar Minallah against the custom of sawara.

The five girls — Asiya Bibi (8), daughter of Iqbal, Amina Bibi (9), her sister Abida Bibi (7), Sajida Bibi (5) and Fatima Bibi (7) were promised in marriage in a bid to save elder members of their family from serving time for murder.

Alhough the girls are now getting education, their husbands-to-be are illiterate and jobless vagabonds. Amina Bibi, Sajida Bibi and Abida have threatened to commit suicide if they were not protected from this “unconstitutional and un-Islamic custom”.

On Friday, when the court was told by Mansoor Ali Shah, the counsel for Samar Minallah, that his client had formed a group of nine non governmental organizations and was doing research on the custom of sawara in Mardan and Swabi in the NWFP, the chief justice asked Ms Minallah to expand her work to the provinces of Balochistan and Punjab.

Later Ms Minallah told reporters that she was doing a gender equality project in Swabi and Mardan along with a group that comprises Aurat Foundation, Khundo Kor, Oxfam, Sparc, SPO, Ethno Media and Shirkat Gah.

Her counsel informed the court that a number of women who had wanted to commit suicide or free themselves from bondage in the NWFP had been saved as a result of the apex court’s last order. But he deplored the fact that no police representative had bothered to show up at the hearing.

During the hearing the court noted that one Mohammad Yasin from Vehari (Punjab) through a complaint had invited attention to an act of injustice that followed the murder of his wife Rani Bibi. The five persons who were held in connection with the murder tried to escape punishment by offering to give in marriage the hand of one of the murderer’s daughters.

Despite the serious nature of their offence, the complainant said the killers of his wife were roaming freely and were using their influence to block registration of a murder case.

Meanwhile, Samar Minallah in her petition has requested the court to declare as illegal the handing over of a woman as compensation in any form of settlement and that marriage under the custom of sawara did not constitute marriage under the law.

She has also asked the court to declare as illegal any jirga’s decision in such cases as they violate fundamental rights and section 310(1) (compounding of Qisas) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

She has also sought a direction from the court to ensure that the custom of sawara is immediately outlawed and the victims are released in accordance with their constitutional rights.