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Workshop calls for curbing Swara

May 15, 2006

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SWABI, May 14: Speakers at a workshop held here condemned the custom of Swara in the NWFP and the tribal region and said girls should not be used as a commodity while settling disputes.

They called for curbing the custom. They said the hatred between the opponent groups could not be removed by victimising innocent girls under Swara.

The one-day workshop was organized by an Islamabad-based NGO, Ethnomedia and Development.

Under the Swara custom, a girl has to marry a member of the victim family as compensation for a crime she did not commit. This is done to settle a dispute over murder committed by the girl’s father, brother and even uncle.

District Nazim Shahram Khan said Swara had ruined lives of many girls and the ordeal would continue if the government and the society did not make joint efforts to curb the custom.

“Swara is a sign of ignorance and its background goes back to the days of ignorance. We must bury this custom for ever,” he maintained.

A jirga member, Syed Zabikhullah Bacha, said Swara and Vani were un-Islamic practices. He said Swara or any other such practice had no basis in Islam. “Now while resolving disputes, we have excluded Swara as a tool for settlement,” he said. He referred to many cases which he and other jirga members had resolved without Swara.

District Naib Nazim Saeed Zada also opposed using girls to settle men’s disputes as unjust.

He said it was unfair that girls were made scapegoats for making peace between families at odds. But, he regretted, even then the girls given away under the Swara custom were not allowed to work as ambassadors of peace.

Swabi Islahi Jirga president Gul Mast Khan said Swara and Vani girls remained in torment for ever because they were considered symbols of a rival family.

Ijaz Khalid, nazim of the Shaikh Jana union council, said that in the beginning the custom worked according to the wishes of jirga members but with the passage of time many flaws developed in it. He said most of Swara marriages were failed marriages and even in old times, only 10 per cent girls given under Swara were happy.

Councillors Shafqat Rani and Usra Bibi said girls always remained in chains and their helplessness led to their victimisation. “When men indulge in killing why women are made to pay for it under Swara,” said Ms Rani.

Samaji Behbood Rabita Council president Roohal Amin said the custom still remained intact in some parts of the province.

However, he said, it was a good omen that jirga members in plain areas had vowed to settle disputes by imposing fines and not through Swara.

Ethnomedia and Development executive director Ms Samar Minallah said it was, in fact, an innocent Swara girl of the Swabi district which made her start a campaign against the custom and file a writ petition against Swara and Vani customs in the Supreme Court.