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Dreadful ordeal of Swara victims

May 11, 2006

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SWABI, May 10: Some women, who had fallen prey to the custom of Swara 20 to 25 years ago, and their parents have said that the inhuman custom has destroyed their lives and should be eradicated.

They narrated to this correspondent the ordeal that their families suffered because of the custom.

Under Swara, a girl is given in marriage to a rival family by jirga as a compensation for a murder committed either by her brother, father or even an uncle to restore peace between the warring families.

A Swara marriage is usually decided by a tribal Jirga — comprising elders of a village or region, depending on the nature of the dispute — and of the warring families.

The women, parents and jirga members contacted by this correspondent said that the Swara girls were never given a choice to decide about their life partners and were compelled to follow the decision taken by a jirga and their parents.

“I was eight-years old when my parents gave me in Swara to settle a dispute which had taken place before my birth. My relatives had killed one person and injured another over a land dispute,” said a woman who now has three children.

“Like other Pukhtun families, in our family it was not possible to question the elders and I had to follow their decision. Another factor was my age: how could a girl talk about the choice of her spouse when she is just eight years old.”

Another woman said that for the sake of settlement of a dispute, she had to scarifice her life. “No one realises how much hardships a Swara girl has to face.”

“Any disobedience or resistance might result in another dispute between the two former rival families and a Pukhtun girl never creates that dispute even if she has to die,” said the mother of four children.

Other Swara women said that their lives were never smooth and they were targeted on flimsy excuses, especially by their mothers-in-law who did not accept them as their daughters-in-law.

The parents who gave their daughters in Swara said that circumstances had forced them to give their daughters in Swara.

The father of a Swara girl said that his 25-year-old enmity was brought to an end through the custom and he had to give his daughter in marriage to protect his young generation from enmity.

“I realise that her life has been full of troubles and whenever she complained, I told her to bear whatever happened to her for the sake of her brothers”, he added.

“Giving my daughter in a Swara marriage was more painful than continuing the enmity, said the father of another Swara girl. At that time it was a good decision but later I always cursed myself.”

When contacted by phone, Samar Minallah, executive director of Ethno-media and Development, an NGO, who has filed a writ petition against the custom of Swara and Vani in a court, said: “I am confident that the custom will one day be eradicated, but certainly not in the near future.

“Creating an atmosphere of dialogue is the first step; the road ahead is long but not bleak,” Samar added.