ISLAMABAD, Feb 15: Kwende Chay Keenee, Roona Staee Roona Chay Keenee, Khowendy Swaray Kay, says a verse from a Pashto wedding song meaning that: when sisters come together; they praise their brothers. However, when brothers meet; they give their sisters away as Swara!

The above Pashto verse embodies the protest of the womenfolk in the conservative North West Frontier Province (NWFP) where sisters and daughters are given away as Swara to settle tribal disputes and feuds.

It is unfortunate that despite the passing of the Women Protection Act, the daughters of the Eve are still increasingly becoming victims of the savage man-made customs like Swara, Vanni, Khoona Badla or Sang Chatti.

Some 60 cases of Swara took place in two districts of NWFP - Mardan and Swabi - in just four months (May-Aug 2006).

These observations were made by a leading anthropologist and director of Ethnomedia Samar Minullah while sharing the findings of her fresh research on Swara.

How much our society - particularly the rural and underdeveloped areas - is steeped in these cruel customs could best be gauged from the findings of “Swara - The Human Shield; a study of the custom of Swara in NWFP” which were shared by Ms Minallah with journalists and people from different walks of life at the Centre for Democratic Development of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) here on Thursday.

The research, which generally depicts a gloomy picture of our society, has however found some healthy signs, as 95 per cent of the ulema in Mardan and Swabi believe that Nikah of a girl/woman given in compensation can be considered Nikah-bil-Jabr (forced marriage).

A similar percentage of the members of jirga - a meeting of local elders who settle disputes and are also responsible for Swara - believes that women should be given the right to choose their life partners. Some 85 per cent of police officials and 90 per cent of media representatives share the same view point.

The survey reveals a considerable distortion in the practice and normative value associated with Swara. While 57 per cent of men and 51 per cent of women said that giving away girls as Swara was according to tradition, forty-three per cent women termed this practice a convenient way to resolve a conflict to re-claim the lost honor. Fifty-eight per cent of people surveyed in Mardan agreed to this.

Only 10 per cent men and six per cent women termed Swara as the best option for resolution of conflicts. Ms Minallah said that Swara could lower the affected family’s grief by inflicting a constant reminder on the aggressor that a member of their family was in the custody of their rivals.

In majority of the cases, women were treated like animals and men often married other women of their choice. But, even in such cases women did not enjoy any rights to seek divorce. Ninety-one per cent people in Mardan and 95 per cent in Swabi denounced the women’s right to divorce as, according to them, it puts a question mark on the honor of both the families - the aggressor and the bereaved.

Some 55 per cent of the elected representatives view Swara as a tradition that is largely accepted by the society. Only 5 per cent inferred Swara’s acceptance in religion. Interestingly, 40 per cent of the respondents were of the opinion that Swara was not acceptable by society.

During the question-answer session, Ms Minallah admitted that jirga was also a cheaper source of speedy resolution of disputes in the rural Pakistan compared to the country’s judicial system which involved often a tiresome process. But, the practice of giving women in compensation to end family feuds must end, as it violates the basic human rights and negates the true spirit of Islam and humanity.

She said jirgas should continue to resolve the disputes by ordering compensations in the form of money or land instead of women as they were not objects but humans.

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