LAYYAH, April 3: In yet another incident of the draconian ‘Vani’ custom, a sixth-class student has been made to pay a heavy price for the audacity of her uncle at Thal Calan union council.

A panchayat (village jury) recently pronounced a verdict ordering a 10-year-old girl’s marriage with a lad of 13 in order to teach the former’s family a lesson for the ‘wrongdoing’ of one of its male members.

Information gleaned by Dawn revealed that Ramzan, a resident of Basti Naiwala (Chak 129-TDA), had had his affairs of heart with a neighbour, Sadia Mai. Girl’s father Qadir Bakhsh decided to marry her with one of her cousins, but before he could materialise the plan, the love birds took a secret flight from their houses.

Qadir Bakhsh submitted an application to the Sadar police station, alleging that Ramzan had kidnapped his daughter Sadia. The police, however, arrested Ramzan’s elder brother Mazhar Husain.

Ramzan’s father Wahid Husain approached UC Nazim Rasheed Nasir Sumra to get his son Mazhar released and the nazim obliged him by giving an undertaking to the police that he would mediate between the two parties.

To settle the issue in a traditional way, a village jury, comprising UC Nazim Rasheed Nasir, former Mandi Town UC Naib Nazim Muhammad Ameen Sumra, Zafar Husain Langah (a local influential), Imtiaz Ahmad Thind, a nephew of the Layyah district nazim, and Mehr Maqbool Ahmad Thind, the District Public Safety Commission chairman, was assigned the job. In the meantime, Sadia Bibi appeared in a local court and recorded that she had married Ramzan of her own freewill.

The panchayat, held at the outhouse of Mehr Maqbool Thind, through its spokesman Imtiaz Thind, set before the accused party head, Wahid Bakhsh, three conditions: either the girl should be returned to Qadir Bakhsh (father) within 24 hours or Wahid transfers one-acre agricultural land in the name of Qadir Bakhsh or he should give the hand of a girl of his family to Qadir Bakhsh’s kin.

Wahid Bakhsh pleaded that he was a poor man having only three acres that serves as the sustenance of his family. As for the girl’s return, he said, he had no clue to the whereabouts of the couple so he must be given more time to meet the jury’s demand. The shattered Wahid also informed the jury that he had already married his only daughter.

As if it was an insult to the jury, there was a unanimous voice that Wahid gave nod to his granddaughter’s marriage with Qadir Bakhsh’s 13-year-old son Rizwan, leading 10-year-old Sumaira Bibi -- a sixth-class student -- to the altar of ‘Vani’. Therafter, the ‘Nikah’ was solemnised much to the annoyance of Wahid and his family.

Maulana Muhammad Ashraf, the Nikahkhwan, told Dawn that he performed the ‘Nikah’ of Sumaira with Ramzan, the brother of Sadia Bibi. As the girl was minor, he said, he did not document the ‘Nikah’ and instead performed ‘Sharae Nikah’ in the presence of the village council members.

Wahid Bakhsh, the grandfather of Sumaira Bibi, said he was left with no choice but to surrender to the will of the jury to save his family from the police brutality and wrath of local influential figures.

Sumaira Bibi was not even aware of what had happened to her. Answering a query by this correspondent, she said she had done what her grandfather commanded her to do. While her mother, Ameeran Mai, left her house in protest against the decision.

UC Nazim Rasheed Nasir Sumra denied the case of ‘Vani’, but said both families had agreed on Wattaa Satta (exchange marriage) to settle a dispute. He said no ‘Sharae Nikah’ was performed, but ‘Dua-i-Khair’ was offered after the matter stood settled.

The jury unanimously endorsed and announced the decision agreed upon between the two families, he claimed.

Sub-inspector Illyas, the police investigator, said accused Ramzan had presented his ‘Nikahnama’ with Sadia Bibi who also got recorded her statement in court that she had willingly married Ramzan.

DPSC Chairman Mehr Maqbool Thind and Imtiaz Ahmad, the other members of the jury, claimed that they refused to give any verdict keeping in view the victim’s age, but Rasheed Nasir and Zafar Husain Langah implemented the decision and got the ‘Nikah’ solemnised.

Muhammad Ali Qureshi, a social activist, commented that the local government system indirectly supported crime against women, particularly in south Punjab.

He demanded that an exemplary action should be taken against the so-called jury so that the evil of ‘Vani’ could be checked.

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