The curse of swara

Published: September 18, 2012
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The latest case that occurred in Swat, saw a jirga declaring that a 13-year-old girl must be married off to an older man as a punishment for her brother’s illicit relationship with a girl from the man’s family. PHOTO: EXPRESS

“I will kill myself but will not marry an older man. I am ready to bear any other punishment but will not submit to the jirga’s decision of giving me away in swara. Why are they sacrificing me for my brother’s fault?”

After uttering those words, she burst into tears. Her every word pierced my heart.

As my interview of the girl came to an end, an unending string of gloomy thoughts engulfed me and I pondered over the state of women’s rights in our society. I came to the conclusion that in a male-dominated society, women live only to protect the men in their families, sacrifice themselves and then fade away silently.

Known as ‘swara’ in the Pashtun belt and ‘vani’ in Punjab, this custom entails using women as compensation for the faults and crimes their male relatives may have committed. A woman may be married off into the aggrieved family so that her male relative can escape the death penalty for the crime that he may have committed against that family. The woman is then forced to live an unhappy life where she is ill-treated by her in-laws, not allowed to take part in any celebration and spends her days in seclusion and disgrace. She may even end up being killed in mysterious circumstances.

In certain parts of Pakistan, swara is considered to be the most appropriate way of ending a dispute — despite it being illegal — especially when it comes to resolving a case of murder. Otherwise, an endless cycle of killings often ensues on either side that could extend for generations. The latest case that occurred in Swat, saw a jirga declaring that a 13-year-old girl must be married off to an older man as a punishment for her brother’s illicit relationship with a girl from the man’s family. However, the brave 13-year-old refused to accept the jirga’s decision.

This is possibly the first time in Pakhtun society that a girl has fought for her rights and has come out victorious. Her courageous stand saved her from the life of perpetual torment she would have had to endure otherwise. She has exposed the barbaric verdict of the jirga (a decision making assembly of male elders), which has led to the arrest of 11 of its members for which she deserves our utmost admiration.

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Fazal Khaliq

A reporter for The Express Tribune in Swat.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.