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PESHAWAR, Nov 11: First qualitative research on the rural custom of Swara was launched at the Peshawar Press Club on Saturday. “The 160-page book ‘Swara: the Human Shield’ is an attempt to discuss the issue sincerely by documenting case studies with a view to drawing attention of opinion makers and policy makers towards the illegal custom, thereby prompting them to take steps to stop it,” said Ms Samar Minnalah, author of the publication.

"In Pukhtoon culture, revenge is considered as binding, and the custom of Swara is a part of this culture,” she said.

Describing Swara, she said: “In acknowledgement of its guilt, a group hands over one or more of their girls to their rivals. A Swara girl is just given food and clothing, and not allowed to take part in social gatherings and family rituals.”

According to the researcher, Swara has evolved with time and is redefined by economic and social forces. The economic disputes have deteriorated it into a form of revenge rather than a form of peace-keeping measure between two rival families.

The book is based on an in-depth research conducted in the summer of 2006 in Mardan and Swabi districts of the NWFP.

She said some sixty cases of Swara had been recorded in three months in Mardan and Swabi districts “which is enough to gauge the prevalence of this custom in the Pukhtun society.”

The book contains a number of real stories and photos of the girls whose cases were undertaken by the judiciary during the research period. It describes various forms of Swara and its historical and cultural background.

"Supreme Court has granted relief in many Swara cases. However, there is need to create awareness about this un-Islamic and illegal custom in the Pukhtun society," said Ms Minnalah.

“Swara is a human right abuse which still exists. It is a social crime which is not restricted to a region or two. In other parts, it is practised with other names such as Vanni, Sang Chatti, Sakh, Khoon Baha, Stan, Mayaar and Laaf,” she said.

“Even without any legal or religious justification, Swara prevails as a viable means of conflict resolution,” she said.

She said findings of the research would be disseminated to the Ministry of Women Development, judiciary, law-enforcement agencies and various government organisations.

Ms Minnalah has also produced documentary films and songs to highlight various social issues concerning women. They include ‘Swara: the bridge over troubled waters’, ‘Bibi Shireenay: where honour comes from’, ‘Dar Pa Dar - where the heart lies’ and ‘Shinwari Lawangeena - where waters meet’.