The documentary has been aired in various districts of NWFP. It has also been aired on various national television channels at conferences and workshops. Since the making of the documentary, Pakistan Television Peshawar, Geo Television, Ptv World, ARY, arranged special programs to air the documentary. The documentary has been aired in far flung areas of NWFP to create discussion within the civil society.
It has been chosen as part of the Amnesty International, NY archives because of the strong influence it has played in communication for social change. It has also been screened and widely acclaimed at various international Film Festivals
The film was selected to be screened at;
*A celluloid novelty
Indrani Dutta (The Hindu Business Line)
Documentary films from Pakistan , screened at the recent Third International Social Communication Cinema Conference, were thought-provoking as much as they were as insightful.
A package of social communication films from Pakistan screened in Kolkata recently caused a bit of a stir as much for its maiden appearance here, as for its content. The films were screened at the recent Third International Social Communication Cinema Conference organised by Roopkala Kendro — an Indo-Italian Institute of Film and Social Communication.
The package unfolded with the film: Swara — A Bridge Over Troubled Waters from debutante film- maker Samar Minallah. The movie highlights a haunting practice in Pakhtun region of North-West Pakistan where women and even minor girls are given away as reparation of serious crimes committed by the men. The practice is still prevalent not only in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) but also in Punjab where it is called v anni .
The film, made in Pushtu, has been dubbed in Urdu and English and is mainly targeted at the local population — the opinion-makers and the decision-makers. Moving away from making stereotype saleable images involving ` burqas and bearded men', the documentary films Pakhtun women speaking against the culturally sensitive issue. Samar ,, an anthropologist by training, has made this film with financial assistance from Aurat Foundation, an NGO. It also plans to take the film to all the districts of the NWFP for local screening.
In an e-mail interview to Life, , she said that the act of sending a girl or a woman (on horse-back — which is the literal meaning of Swara ) was seen as an act of seeking truce and often the Pakhtuns would send the women back with gifts and a dupatta or a ` chador ' signifying honour.
The main purpose was to make the erring tribe bite dust and realise their mistake. However, many a time, the girl would be retained with the warring tribes demanding minor girls! According to Samar , the provincial law department of the NWFP has drafted a law banning what it calls a swara marriage.
Meanwhile, a process of consensus building has also begun so as to do away with this practice. Swara has been screened locally and is set to be telecast on national TV channels in local dialects, says Samar . The film has also been screened at various festivals.
"I want the film to be screened at venues that have an empathetic audience, not an exploitive one, since my aim is to work towards abolition of this custom," says Samar , who has done the interviewing for the film all by herselfin the tribal areas of NWFP.
In her film, Terror's Children , Sharmeen Obaid has tracked the lives of eight Afghan refugee children who had fled their war-ravaged homes in Afghanistan to seekshelter in Karachi . The 45-minute film documents their journey through hunger, disease and penury, which forces them to sift through trash bins for the sake of a livelihood. Some are `lucky enough to find shelter in madrasas and some opt for militancy'.
Says the 25-year-old director, "While mostly young adults, around 17 years of age, are encouraged to opt for militancy, some choose to stay back in Pakistan , where they do not have to worry about food and where they find some means of survival."
Sharmeen's film, which was premiered on the launch night of Discovery Times , has done the festival circuit. She is currently producing a documentary about the recent Indo-Pak peace initiative. -She says that most of her work is financed by Western TV networks.
The final offering in the package is King Cotton and Freshwater Equation , a rather long title that addresses an issue that is looming not only over Pakistan but perhaps the entire Indian sub-continent — the need to conserve water. The 18-minute film done in English by Sumaira Latif stresses the importance of water conservation, especially with respect to farming cash crops like cotton. Samaira, who works with World Wild Life Fund (WWF), Pakistan , says that the water condition in the Indus River inspired her to make the movie. "WWF's efforts towards the issue was the main source of motivation for myself," she says.
The film, according to her, is going to be made in Urdu too, and shown to farmers to help them adopt better practices, especially with regard to water conservation. The film has been shown to donor agencies so that they can finance programmes that will help farmers conserve fresh water.
These three women directors say that they faced no problems in documenting sensitive issues on celluloid in their country. Sumaira, for instance, says that she gained a lot of respect along her way.
Although censorship of films has been one of the primary factors behind the stunted growth of the Pakistani film industry, documentaries up till now have not passed through the censors scissors too much. Says Sharmeen, "In Pakistan, documentary films are a novelty — very few people make them and even fewer finance them. The government does not censor these films because... perhaps it has never felt the need to."
*Blood Feuds Trap Girls in 'Compensation Marriages'
PESHAWAR, Apr 1 (IPS) - Rights groups are actively campaigning against a brutal custom that forces families to give away their daughters in marriage as compensation for murder and as settlement of disputes in Pakistan's lawless north-west.
Much of the campaign involves voluntary groups holding workshops and meetings to raise awareness, and lawyers providing free legal aid to victims of 'swara', the custom under which minor girls are made to pay for offences committed by their fathers or male relatives. The custom is also prevalent in adjoining parts of Punjab province where it is called 'vanni'.
Zainab Bibi was married at 13, divorced by 16, and has two children to look after. ''I was married to a 50-year-old man. My brother had killed a man from that family. To settle the dispute, my hand was given in marriage-- which ended in divorce,'' she told IPS in the Mardan district of the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Zainab remembers that the three years at her in-laws' house was like hell. ''Everyday, they beat me for petty issues apparently in revenge for the murder,''she recalled in tears. Now on her own, she is raising her children with her father's support.
There are thousands of women like her in the NWFP, but their stories seldom make it to the media, says Rakshanda Naz, resident director of the womens' rights group 'Aurat Foundation' in Peshawar, capital of the NWFP. Neither does legislation provide relief to the victims, she added.
According to anthropologist Samar Minullah, director of the 'Ethnomedia' organisation and maker of a hard-hitting documentary on 'swara' in 2003, the practice is so deeply entrenched in Pakhtun and other tribal societies that it is difficult to raise a voice against it.
Policy makers who could have outlawed the practice have shown no interest in stopping 'swara'. It stigmatises a woman for life and there is little chance for happiness because there is no ‘honour' in the marriage.
The custom is as difficult to curb as the practice of 'honour killing', widespread in Pakistan and other Muslim countries, in which a women may be put to death for actual or alleged immoral behaviour by her own relatives.
Yasmeen Hassan, author of 'The Haven Becomes Hell: A Study of Domestic Violence in Pakistan', writes that the ''concepts of women as property and honour are so deeply entrenched in the social, political and economic fabric of Pakistan that the government, for the most part, ignores the daily occurrences of women being killed and maimed by their families''.
Under prevailing law, if a ‘swara' victim files a complaint with the police, her father could be arrested. ''This stops the victims from speaking up to get relief,'' Minullah observed.
Sabeena Gul of 'Shirkat Gah' and Mussarat Syed of ‘Khwendo Kor', both women's rights and advocacy groups, said 'swara' satisfied the need for 'revenge' that is strong among Pushtoons, and other ethnic groups in the region.
It is believed that the children of such unions could help keep peace between feuding families. Whether this happens or not, the girl taken in 'swara' bears the brunt of it all and is forced into a life of near slavery in the home of the 'enemy'.
It is left to the aggrieved party to pick a girl and, if the dead man had high standing in society, his heirs may even take away two girls in 'swara'. The process is overseen by the 'jirga' or villae council, which usually favours the more influential family.
The victim herself has no say and typically she is taken away on reaching puberty. In order to deny her family any dignity, the nikah (Islamic marriage rite) may be deliberately delayed. The girl bears the stigma for the rest of her life.
In fact, the whole procedure violates Islamic matrimonial law which requires the consent of both the man and the woman about to enter into marriage.
Rakhshanda Parveen from 'Sachet', a non-governmental organisation, describes swara as ''culturally-sanctioned practice of violence against women''.
'Swara' victims may land in jail for crimes they did not commit. Twenty two-year-old Gul Marjan from Kohat district, NWFP, is serving a life term at Haripur prison after being convicted on charges of killing her husband. Her appeal is pending before the Peshawar High Court, which has fixed Jun. 4 for the hearing of her case.
The young woman was accused of murder by her father-in-law, Eid Bacha, who claimed that Gul, who was given in ‘swara' to his son in 1997, had strained relations with her husband. Handed over against her will at a jirga, she was made to pay for her brother's illicit relations with a girl from Bacha's family.
The deceased, Zahir Shah, was killed on Dec. 3, 1998 . The first information report (FIR) was registered by Gul herself. She told the police that she was in her room when she heard a gunshot and then saw her husband lying injured outside.
But, she was convicted by a local court on the basis of her confessional statement, in which she said that her husband used to torture and beat her. She claimed that, on the night of his death, he loaded a gun and aimed it at her. Gul tried to save herself and, during the scuffle, the gun went off resulting in his death.
Later, she retracted the statement and claimed that she was forced by the police to record it.
Her advocate, Noor Alam Khan, who heads 'Voice of Prisoners', a legal aid group, told IPS that Gul suffered twice. ''First she had to pay the price for the misdeeds of her brother, and now she has been in prison since 1998,'' he said. Khan has already defended four women given in 'swara', and won their acquittals.
''Swara and vanni are pre-Islamic customs and have no room in Islam. Therefore, they must be condemned and strict punishment should be awarded to the accused under Islamic laws,'' said Syeda Viqaur Nisa Hashmi, a research associate with the National Commission on Status of Women. (END/2006)
*las inocentes víctimas de la tradición
Zofeen T. Ebrahim (IPS)
Rubina Bibi, de 17 años, fue confinada en un establo a causa de un delito que no cometió, en la noroccidental aldea pakistaní de Kas Koroona. Murió en 2005, en circunstancias misteriosas. Vivía con la familia de su esposo.
Cerca de allí, en la aldea de Gumbat Banda, también en la Provincia de la Frontera Nororiental de Pakistán, murió en junio Tayyaba Begum, de 20 años. Su familia política la sometió a torturas, según la antropóloga Samar Minallah.
Pobladores de la aldea "me dijeron en secreto que Tayyaba murió un mes y medio después de casarse", dijo a IPS Minallah, directora de la organización de derechos humanos EtnoMedios y Desarrollo.
Zarmina Bibi, de 19 años, contrajo matrimonio en febrero de 2006 y, al parecer, fue asesinada por su cuñado dos meses después. Su suegra asegura que el rifle que estaba limpiando la muchacha se disparó por accidente.
Pero la madre de Zarmina cree que la mataron miembros de su familia política, dijo a IPS la activista Rafaqat Bibi, de Mardan, no emparentada con Zarmina ni con Rubina.
Las tres jóvenes habían sido entregadas por la fuerza a las familias con las que vivían cuando encontraron la muerte, en compensación por un delito cometido por las suyas.
Se trata de una tradición llamada "swara", en pashtún, en algunos lugares de Afganistán y la Provincia de la Frontera Noroccidental, y "vanni" en la oriental provincia pakistaní de Punjab.
Esa práctica se mantiene en Pakistán, a pesar de que la ley la prohíbe.
La entrega forzada de las jóvenes ocurre "desde que tengo memoria, pero el asesinato de estas pobres mujeres es un fenómeno prácticamente reciente", señaló Rafaqat Bibi. La tendencia se remonta a 1998, estimó.
"La swara implica una virtual pena de muerte para estas jóvenes, víctimas de la tradición", dijo a IPS la directora de la Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Pakistán, Kamila Hayat, desde LaHore .
"Aun en los casos en que no terminan asesinadas, la humillación y el sufrimiento que padecen, a veces de por vida, es terrible. Y estas mujeres no son responsables de ningún delito", añadió.
El profesor de psicología clínica Fouzia Naeem, del Instituto de Ciencia y Tecnología de Karachi, procede de una aldea de la Provincia de la Frontera Noroccidental donde se instauró la swara para frenar enemistades sangrientas entre clanes con décadas de antigüedad.
El verdadero motivo de la mayoría de los conflictos sangrientos es la disputa por la posesión de la tierra, explicó Khan.
Para resolver un enfrentamiento, la jirga (asamblea de ancianos de la aldea) resuelve que una joven de la familia del atacante se case con un miembro de la familia agredida, con el fin de evitar futuros asesinatos.
Algunas veces, incluso, se entregan niñas de pocos meses como "dinero sangriento", que se casan cuando crecen. Si no hay mujeres en la familia, se compran niñas a otra.
"Es como una condena a muerte", dijo Khan a IPS.
"Una mujer sometida a swara puede estar viva, pero su espíritu está muerto. Ella sirve como permanente recordatorio de la muerte de un ser querido para la familia con la que vive. Es posible que no siempre haya abuso físico, pero sí una cicatriz psicológica con la que tiene que vivir y que nunca sana ."
Minallah estudia esta costumbre desde 2002. Al año siguiente realizó un documental al respecto, titulado "Swara: A Bridge Over Troubled Waters" ("Swara: Un puente sobre aguas turbulentas").
En un nuevo proyecto de investigación, "Swara: el escudo humano", la antropóloga escribió: "El odio hacia ellas nunca termina. A veces hasta sus hijos sufren burlas y agresiones verbales."
"Se cree que el casamiento por swara sirve para establecer una paz duradera al unir a dos familias mediante el matrimonio. Pero eso rara vez sucede", indica.
Minallah, al igual que Bibi, considera que la cantidad de mujeres muertas en condiciones extrañas en los últimos años ha ido en aumento.
No hay estadísticas que den cuenta de la cantidad de niñas entregadas por esa tradición, pero Minallah cree que es significativa. Durante su investigación conoció a 60 mujeres desposadas según la tradición swara, únicamente en los distritos de Mardan y Swabi.
Entre ellas, 20 estaban casadas desde hacía mucho tiempo, pero el resto habían sido entregadas el mismo año en que la activista supo de esos casos.
La Comisión de Derechos Humanos de Pakistán registró 1.242 crímenes violentos contra mujeres en los ocho primeros meses de 2005.
Por su parte, la organización Abogados por los Derechos Humanos y Asistencia Legal, con sede en Karachi , contabilizó 31.000 denuncias en los últimos cinco años en todo el país. Esa estadística no discrimina los delitos "swara" de los otros.
Varias organizaciones de la sociedad civil realizan talleres y reuniones informales para generar conciencia respecto de esa brutal costumbre, tan difícil de eliminar como los asesinatos por honor. Además, ofrecen asistencia legal gratuita a las víctimas.
Una mujer sometida a swara debe guardar silencio, porque si revela su condición su padre puede ser tomado prisionero.
Para terminar con esa tradición, el país debe primero eliminar el dominio de las jirgas.
El poder que detentan estos órganos deja en evidencia el fracaso del endeble sistema judicial de Pakistán, cuyos magistrados suelen demostrar gran falta de sensibilidad y que depende de una policía incapaz de realizar investigaciones apropiadas.
"El gobierno debe asegurarse de suprimir las panchayats (concejos locales), las jirgas tribales y otros órganos tradicionales. Las autoridades locales deben actuar de acuerdo con la ley y dejar de adjudicarse potestades de tribunal", dijo Ali Dayan Hasan, investigador de Asia septentrional de la organización Human Rights Watch.
Pero "estos foros de justicia informal sólo pueden eliminarse realmente si el sistema judicial es efectivo en serio", añadió Hasan.
Lo que, por ahora, no es el caso de Pakistán.
*DEATH PENALTY : "Swara" Killings in Pakistan Continue
Zofeen T. Ebrahim
KARACHI , Sep 27 (IPS) - In 2005, 17-year-old Rubina Bibi died under mysterious circumstances after eating a meal in the small village of Kas Koroona , in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP). She was living at the time in an animal shed -- the only place where her in-laws would allow her to stay.
Not far away, in another village called Gumbat Banda, villagers have "disclosed to me in hushed tones that young Tayyaba, who died a month and a half after her marriage in June 2006, was actually poisoned by her in-laws," Samar Minallah, an anthropologist and rights activist heading Ethnomedia and Development, a non-governmental organisation, told IPS. Tayyaba Begum, 20, was tortured by her in-laws from the day she entered their home, Minallah believes.
Zarmina Bibi, 19, married in February 2006, was allegedly shot dead by her brother-in-law two months after her marriage. Her mother-in-law claimed the girl was cleaning her husband's rifle and it went off. Zarmina's mother believes her daughter was murdered by the in-laws, Rafaqat Bibi, a social activist working in Mardan -- and no relation to Zarmina or Rubina -- told IPS.
All three young women were given in marriage to hostile families as compensation for a relative's crime in a practise called "swara" in Pashtun, parts of Afghanistan and the NWFP -- and "vanni" in the Punjab . Although officially outlawed in Pakistan , the custom prevails.
"For as long as I can remember, I've witnessed swara, but killing these poor women is a fairly recent phenomenon," said Rafaqat Bibi, who has observed the trend since 1998.
Kamila Hayat, joint director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) told IPS via email from LaHore , "Swara is a virtual death penalty for young women who become victims of the tradition."
"Even in cases where they are not physically killed, the humiliation and misery they face, sometimes for an entire lifetime, is a terrible punishment. It is made all the worse by the fact that the women concerned are of course not guilty of any crime," Hayat added.
Assistant professor Fouzia Naeem Khan, a clinical psychologist teaching at SZABIST Institute of Science and Technology in Karachi , belongs to a village in the NWFP where swara originally was designed to stop decades old blood feuds between two clans.
The root cause for most blood feuds is land, Khan said. To resolve conflicts the jirga, or village council, dictates sending a bride from the assailant's family to the aggrieved to put an end to all further killings.
Sometimes girls just a few months old are given as 'blood money' and married once they reach adulthood. At times when there are no women in the family, girls are purchased from another family.
"It's like proclaiming a death sentence," Khan told IPS. "A swara may be alive but her spirit has long been snuffed out. She is a constant reminder (to the in-laws) of the death of their loved one...The physical abuse may not always be there, but it's the psychological scars that she has to live with and which never seem to heal."
Minallah has been studying the custom since 2002. She produced a documentary film, 'A Bridge Over Troubled Waters' in 2003. In a new research project, 'Swara – The Human Shield', Minallah writes: "The hatred towards her does not end. At times even her children face verbal abuse and are taunted."
Minallah continued, "Contrary to the belief that a swara marriage is a form of lasting peace that binds two families together through a marriage alliance, rarely is it so." She, like Bibi, believes the number of women who have died in mysterious circumstances has risen in recent years.
While there are no statistics indicating how many girls are given in swara annually, the number, Minallah believes, is significant. During her research she met 60 swara women in the districts of Mardan and Swabi alone. Around 20 were women who had been swara for many years, but the rest were given away in 2006.
In 2005, the HRCP recorded at least 1,242 cases of violent crime against women in the first eight months of the year. According to the Karachi-based Lawyers for Human Rights and Legal Aid, 31,000 crimes against women had been reported in the last five years throughout Pakistan . The group does not separate swara crimes from its statistics.
IPS reported earlier this year how some voluntary groups are holding regular workshops and informal meetings to raise awareness about this brutal custom, which is as difficult to uproot as honour killings. In the case of swara, if the woman complains, her father could be arrested. This stops the woman from speaking up. These organisations also provide free legal aid to victims.
To end swara, the country must first wipe out the prevalence of the jirga system. The recent rise of the jirga's power denotes a failure on the part of Pakistan 's weak judicial system, which is marred by a virtually non-existent investigative capacity on the part of police and lack of sensitisation of lower-level judges.
It is imperative, Ali Dayan Hasan, South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch said, that "the government authorities ensure that village panchayats, tribal jirgas and other customary councils are abolished and local influentials act in accordance with the law and do not usurp the proper judicial role of the civil courts."
But, Hasan added in his conversation with IPS, "These informal forums of justice can only be effectively eliminated if the judicial system is truly effective."
So far, in Pakistan , it is not.
*Girls as Sacrificial Lambs
Zofeen T Ebrahim
In a throwback to medieval times, ' swara ' - blood price - is still practiced in Pakistan . Women and girls, even babes in their cradles, are given away in marriage as compensation for crimes committed by their men folk; crimes as petty as theft.
In the powerful Pakhtun community, swara is a means of preventing bloodshed in cases of 'honour crimes'. Samar Minallah - anthropologist and Executive Director of the NGO Ethnomedia and Development, which works against the swara system - says that the Pakhtuns are guided by the 'Pukhtunwali', the native unwritten law "that has been etched in the hearts and minds of its people".
"The Pakhtuns settle scores by taking badal (or revenge) to maintain their honor. Daughters and sisters are given away to resolve conflicts and prevent further bloodshed," she explains. For the jirga (an informal tribal village elders' council), swara is an accepted dispute resolution mechanism. But this custom is not peculiar to the Pakhtuns alone. In Balochistan, Central Punjab and Sindh, near-identical customs in the form of ' khoon baha', 'mayar', 'vani' and ' sang chatti ' remain in practice.
In May 2006, in Murad Satthar village of Shikarpur , Sindh, a jirga ordered a father, Mohammad Ramzan, to hand over two daughters - aged nine and one - as compensation for money owed to a local feudal lord for three buffaloes. The father consented in writing. Luckily for the girls, the Sindh High court intervened and barred the transaction.
And what happens if the family does not have girls to be used as swara? Afsar Ali bought 13-year-old Bibi Jan in a marketplace in Peshawar , capital of the Frontier Province , for Rs 53,000 (US$1=Pak Rs 57.46). He used her as swara because he did not have a close female relative to hand over. Bibi Jan was lucky, some say, for the recipient family rejected her, claiming that she was mentally challenged.
Minallah has been studying the swara system since 2002 and has single-handedly intervened in many cases. Her first overture against it was in 2003 in the form of a film, 'A Bridge Over Troubled Waters', where swara women talked openly about the "unjust and barbaric" custom. Even the parents "wished their young daughter would die of some childhood disease before being given away to the enemy".
For the film, she also spoke to tribal chiefs, who explained the belief behind the system. "It is an attempt to resolve disputes permanently, so that killings won't go on for generations. Traditional wisdom dictates that when girls are brought in from the family of the enemy, the children born to her will belong to both families, thus putting an end to grudges," explained Haji Juma Gul of Khyber Agency.
The reality, though, is quite different. "I'll taunt and humiliate her for she's the price paid for my son's death," says a villager elder. He accepts her as part of the jirga's decision and even feeds and clothes her, but "that's about it. She's not part of the family and cannot partake in any rituals or festivities."
Maulana Nur Mohammad of Fazil Uloom-i-Islamia in Mardan in the NWFP says that swara is un-Islamic. "When a girl is forced into such a relationship, it's not nikah (marriage) but nikah bil jabar (forced marriage), which is not permitted in Islam." Justice Dr Fida Mohammad Khan of the Federal Shariat Court , a parallel court system that takes up cases in the light of Islamic jurisprudence, says, "Islam prescribes that a punishment should be punitive, retributive, reformative and act as a deterrent. Swara doesn't have any of these features. The criminal goes free, and an innocent girl pays the price."
Minallah is currently working on estimating the statistical prevalence of swara in two districts of the NWFP. A comment made by a Supreme Court of Pakistan jury in December 2005 that there is practically no data available on swara was the starting point for her study. Being the main petitioner in that case, she felt it was her responsibility to research the custom.
When Minallah began her research, she was told that the practice does not exist anymore. "People generally avoid talking about these issues in public because it is seen as an act of defiance of one's culture." However, there are reports of swara or vani in the media every so often. Zohra Yusuf, a member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), says, "There are more reports now because of increased awareness. Also, victims of vani are coming forward now to challenge the system."
And that is exactly what Amna Niazi, 22, a masters student, her two sisters and two cousins did. In November 2005, they were toasted for their refusal to honor the marriage vows that took place in 1996, when they variously aged between six and 13. Niazi's uncle had shot a man, and the jirga had ordered that the five girls be handed over as swara. When they refused to comply, the jirga ordered that they be abducted, raped or killed. The father has since paid the blood money and refused to hand over his daughters "like goats" to illiterate men.
Despite a ruling in 2004 by the Sindh High Court that imposed a province-wide ban on jirga trials, the trials carry on with impunity with even the chief ministers of provinces participating. According to a recent news report, from January to June 2006, 53 jirgas were organized in Sindh.
In March 2004, the Law and Justice Commission came out with a draft amendment to Article 366-C of the Pakistan Penal Code, seeking to penalize the act of offering and accepting by way of compensation any child, or a woman against her free will. Sadly, the amendment has not yet been passed. And this is despite the fact that Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and the Muslim Family Law itself states that, in a marriage, a girl must be at least 16 and must give her consent.
However, rights activists feel that the winds of change are now blowing. Minallah says that in 2006, for the first time, special committees were formed to give legal help to people affected by these customs. "Last month, with the help of these committees and the local administration, an imam who had conducted nikah (marriage) of a one-month old girl swara was arrested. In Mardan, a week back, local police arrested jirga members who had allowed the rival party to take an 11-year-old swara victim with them to a tribal area."
Meanwhile, Minallah labours on, despite threats and criticism. But there are times when she also realises that her quest was not in vain. "Once I intervened in a jirga in Mardan, where Marina , 8, was to be given away as swara. To my surprise, the jirga let me speak. After I spoke, they announced formally that Marina would not be made swara." And now she gets anonymous phone calls from other parts of the NWFP informing her that "in such and such a jirga, a swara has been handed over".
July 30, 2006
*2 minor girls given in compensation for buffalo theft
ISLAMABAD : A demonstration was held in district Shikarpur, Sindh, where two minor girls were given away in compensation against 11 stolen buffaloes, a renowned human rights activist, Samar Minallah, told The Post Tuesday.
Providing details of the case, she said that on May 31, 2006, near Murid Sathar village of Tehsil of Luckhy Ghulam Shah, district Shikarpur, a local advocate Agha Sanaullah Durrani heard a complaint of Imdad Sathar against his cousin Muhammad Ramzan Sathar regarding recovery of his 11 stolen buffaloes. She said that the local jirga found Ramzan guilty and in two hearings he failed to pay the amount equivalent to 11 buffaloes.
Finally, with consent of Ramzan and his father he was asked to produce his two daughters, nine-year-old Heer and one-year-old Karima for another session of jirga, where they gave ‘verdict' that two of his daughters would be compensated to the complainant against theft of his 11 buffaloes, she said.
Ramzan in the presence of seven witnesses, namely Ghulam Mustafa, Abdul Raheem, Ali Gohar, Qambar, Aziz, Nizam Khawand Bux and Haider, signed a stamp paper of Rs 50 and promised to deliver the innocent girls to the complainant within three days, she added. She appealed to the Supreme Court to take action against the culprits like the honourable court had taken suo motu notice in similar other cases.
*My Voice will not be silenced
We met in June right after her victory in The Pakistan Supreme Court in her fight against the unfair and tyrannical, but also un-Islamic custom of ‘Swara'.
Meeting Samar was a wonderful experience, having known her for nearly two years through emails this was the first time we met face to face. Meeting her in person renewed my faith in the goodness of the human heart. Samar turned out to be a smart young lady with a shiny personality and brimming with intelligence.
Swara is the Pukhtun tradition of giving (and in most cases an unwilling) daughter/female of the clan to your enemy in order to end an old rivalry. It is actually more like blood money/price where a girl is substituted for money. If scrutinized, this barbaric tradition is also against the faith of the people who practice it, since according to Islamic jurisprudence; a girl or a woman cannot be given as a trade agreement. A tribal custom which forces families to give their daughters away in marriage as "compensation" to aggrieved parties is deeply entrenched in local culture and needs to be handled very carefully, according to analysts and rights activists
The centuries old Pukhtun code of conduct or Pukhtunwali found Swara to be a means to stop bloodshed among rival clans. Traditionally it is thought that the children born to the girls from the rival warring faction belong to both families, thus the feuding will definitely stop in the next generation
Most people living in the areas where Swara is practiced are unaware of the fact that it still exists, mainly because arranged marriages are a common occurrence and one more marriage where the bride happens to be a peace offering is just overlooked. As in most arranged marriages both the groom and bride have little say, but at least the bride is accepted as a legitimate member of the family, whereas in Swara, she is treated as an outcast and years worth of feuding and hatred is vented on her. The bone chilling words of a tribal leader in Samar 's documentary "She is the prize of my son's death and will be treated accordingly, I'll taunt and humiliate her for she's the price paid for my son's death. She's not part of the family and cannot partake in any rituals or festivities."
Maulana Nur Mohammad of Fazil Uloom-i-Islamia in Mardan in the NWFP says that Swara is un-Islamic. "When a girl is forced into such a relationship, it's not nikah (marriage) but nikah bil jabar (forced marriage), which is not permitted in Islam." Justice Dr Fida Mohammad Khan of the Federal Shariat Court , a parallel court system that takes up cases in the light of Islamic jurisprudence, says, "Islam prescribes that a punishment should be punitive, retributive, reformative and act as a deterrent. Swara doesn't have any of these features. The criminal goes free, and an innocent girl pays the price."
The Law and Justice Commission came out with a draft amendment to Article 366-C of the Pakistan Penal Code in 2004, seeking to penalize the act of offering and accepting by way of compensation any child, or woman against her free will. The amendment has yet to be passed, despite the fact that in 1990 Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Muslim Family Law itself states that, in a marriage, a girl must be at least 16 and must give her consent.
As Samar puts it, "Swara is a part of the Pukhtun culture, we are always told it is a noble sacrifice or that the girl is an ambassador of peace. Sadly though, throughout my research, it is clear that the girl that is given away in the name of Swara has very little chances of leading a good life. A custom that so heartlessly forces a girl to suffer for the rest of her life is completely against basic human rights". Samar's research suggests that it still happens a lot in areas like Sawabi, Karak, Khyber Agency, Dara and Swat, as well as Peshawar itself. People, who give their daughters in Swara, may not call it Swara, but marrying a young girl to appease the enemy can be called nothing short of barbaric no matter how pretty a picture you paint." She stressed how important it was to document such cases and remind ourselves that we are no longer barbarians.
On discussing her documentary "Bridge over troubled waters", she said that she was glad for all the publicity it had got, both good and bad, because her main objective was to get people talking about Swara. She realistically points out that she does not expect one documentary to make an impact, but it is a start and the more attention that is drawn to it can only lead to a positive change.
Samar admits that very few girls come forward to get help. In fact, one might as well consider it non-existent, since these girls will never speak up against their family and its honor. These girls think of it as the price they have to pay to save the lives of their fathers or brothers. A very low percentage would dare to speak up since it would drag their families into court and thus make them face the ridicule of their peers and neighbors.
Due to Samar 's efforts, in December 2005 a three-member bench comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Faqir Khokhar and Justice Shakirullah Jan gave police orders to protect women against Swara by registering any complaints for women who came forward. Her petition requested the court to declare the handing over of a woman as compensation in any form of settlement illegal, and to declare that marriage under the custom of Sawara did not constitute legal marriage. She also requested the court to declare that Jirga decisions in such cases hold no legal value as it violates fundamental rights besides section 310(1) (compounding of Qisas) of the Pakistan Penal Code, and that Sawara customs should be banned immediately and the victims be released to lead a new life in accordance with the constitution.
Throughout dinner Samar was constantly getting phones from well-wishers and relatives congratulating her on her victory earlier that day. She was a little emotional as she described the five little girls whose life this decision had changed, the youngest of whom were 2 years old and the other three were 3, 5 and 6 respectively.
I watched her talk passionately about what could be done to help these girls and I felt her happiness and joy at this victory, it seemed to make all the threats and harsh criticism she faces every day worthwhile.
We watched our daughters eat ice cream and our sons pretending to be all grown up, yet what I remember most and will always cherish is the sparkle in Samar's eyes, that says her quest is not in vain and though the hurdles are many, the reward is sweet. No matter what anyone says about her I will always believe the best for her and if anyone ever dares criticize her in front of me for smearing Pukhtunwali, I will tell them go drink a glass of cold water and if necessary pour one over their head and then watch the videos that Samar made for Bibi Sherini and Shinwari Lewangina.
*IGPs made responsible to prevent Vani, Swara
Samar Minallah (The Dawn)
ISLAMABAD , Dec 16: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the inspectors-general of the NWFP and Punjab to protect women in their respective provinces being given in marriage as ransom under unIslamic customs of ‘Vani' and ‘Sawara'.
A three-member bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice M. Javed Buttar and Justice Tassadduq Hussain Jillani also directed the District Police Officer (DPO) of Mianwali to provide security to five girls and submit compliance report before the court.
The court was jointly hearing the case of five girls from Mianwali who have appealed to President Gen Pervez Musharraf and the chief justice of Pakistan to save them from the cruel social rite of Vani and the petition of a freelance anthropologist, Samar Minallah, against the custom of Sawara (a dispute settlement in which, instead of money, young girls of offender's family is given in marriage to victim's family as a compensation for the crime committed by male family members).
The Supreme Court decided to take up again the matter next year on February 24 after Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) president Malik Mohammad Qayyum sought time to research the customs of Vani prevailing in Mianwali district and identical customs in other provinces under which fundamental rights of women were being denied.
Advocate Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, representing Samar Minallah, requested for urgent hearing in view of incidents reported in different parts of the country.
Samar Minallah also presented a recorded compact disc (CD) containing interview of a ten-year-old Norrina of Swat (NWFP) who was forced to stay a night in victim's family without solemnization of marriage. “This is an accepted custom in the province,” she deplored.
She also stressed the need to sensitize lawmakers about the ills of Sawara by citing an example of Nowshera where in 2004, a daughter of a watchman was given under Sawara. Ironically the jirga (council of elders) which settled the matter comprised naib nazims and former parliamentarians.
Referring to Vani, the court noted that Amina, Sajida and Abida have threatened to commit suicide if they were not protected from the unconstitutional and unIslamic custom.
Asiya, 8, Amina, 9, Abida, 7, Sajida, 5, and Fatima, 7, were married off in their childhood in a compromise of murder to save their elders.
Samar Minallah in her petition requested the court to declare illegal the handing over of a woman as compensation in any form of settlement and that marriage under the custom of Sawara did not constitute marriage under the law.
She had also requested the court to declare that jirga decision in such cases had no legal value as they violate fundamental rights besides section 310(1) (compounding of Qisas) of the Pakistan Penal Code was unconstitutional.
She also sought a direction from the court to ensure that Sawara custom should be banned immediately and the victims be released to lead a new life in accordance with the constitution.
*Pak films to be screened at Roopkala film fest
The Hindu Business Line
PAKISTAN is sending three films for the third international festival of films on social communication,which is to begin here from February 15.
The event is being organised here by Roopkala Kendro, a recently set up institute for film and social communication.
Ms Anita Agnihotri, Director and CEO said that the maiden offering by Pakistan would have a bouquet of three films — `Swara - a Bridge Over Troubled Water' by Samar Minallah, `Terror's Children' by Sharmeen Obaid and `King Cotton and the Freshwater Equation' by Sumaira Latif.
Among other notable films were `Bowling for Columbine' by Michael Moore and `Women Hold up the Sky' from the PDHRE, the USA , which was a group working for human rights.
The conference is to be inaugurated by the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, with a screening of Akiro Kurosawa's `Dodes-Kaden'. A package of animation films by Bruno Nozeto billed as the greatest European animation director, along with a package from Norman McLaren would also be screened. The festival would branch out to Coochbehar in North Bengal as the institute's first step towards taking events to the districts.
Local talent would be showcased during this part of the festival, which has a shoe-string budget of Rs 5 lakh but hopes to fulfil a mission thereby.
As part of the festival, an exhibition of `stills' recovered from personal collections would be displayed. This includes stills from `Devdas' and `Bordidi' made by Prithviraj Kapur. A 1942 Michelle camera with which Satyajit Ray shot `Pather Panchali', would also be exhibited.
In all 34 Indian flicks, and nine foreign ones would be shown during the Calcutta part, which closes with a movie by Sandip Ray (Satyajit Ray's son) on February 22.
*Pakistan court takes up 'compensatory' marriages of minors
Islamabad, June 28 (IANS) Pakistan's Supreme Court has warned legislators against running parallel judiciaries to settle disputes among warring families by contracting marriages of minor girls under tribal customs.
'Civil society will collapse if parallel judiciary is encouraged by legislators...,' a three-member bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and Justices Abdul Hameed Dogar and Saiyed Ashhad observed.
The chief justice pulled up Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, a Pakistan People's Party member of the National Assembly (MNA) from Jacobabad, Sindh, the Dawn newspaper said.
The chief justice asked Bijarani, who was present in court, to explain who vested him with the right to hold a jirga (a tribal court) in violation of the laws.
The complaint regarding the handing over of five minor girls to the victim's family as compensation for a murder in Jacobabad by a jirga presided over by Bijarani was also fixed for hearing.
'You cannot dictate judgments by imposing conditions. So much for the soft image of the country,' the chief justice said.
Sindh Advocate-General Anwar Mansoor Khan told the court that the chief minister had also taken notice of the incident and a first information report (FIR) had been lodged.
It is common for tribal chiefs and landlords, called vaderas in Sindh, to settle family disputes and deliver judgments at judiciary panchayats. The marriages of minor girls are contracted compensation under 'Vani' and 'Sawara' customs, which have been termed un-Islamic.
The apex court was jointly hearing different complaints and a petition of freelance anthropologist Samar Minallah against the custom of Sawara -- dispute settlement in which, instead of blood money, young girls of the offenders' family are given in marriage to the victim's family as a compensation for the crime committed by the men.
A number of tribal chiefs and officials were also hauled up before the court for settling disputes among tribal groups using minor girls' marriage and fine as punishment.
Bijarani told the court that he had no knowledge about the girls though he presided over the jirga on the intention to bring the two families together. The court did not accept this plea.
*Documentary on ‘swara' offers balanced view of a despicable custom
Shania Maqbool (The News)
A lot has been written about the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan and the romantic image of the Pukhtuns, which has enamored local and western authors alike. But Pukhtun culture is not merely about melmastiya (hospitality) and nanawatay (forgiveness)---it is also about badal (revenge) and swara, a deplorable cultural practice under which minor girls are given away in marriage to the enemy's family as part of a ‘lasting and effective' form of peacemaking between two disputing parties.
Titled ‘Swara—A bridge over troubled waters',the documentary offers a series of indepth and interesting interviews of all sections of the Pukhtun society concerned with the practice, including those girls and women who were themselves decreed by ‘jirgas' to be given away in marriage in a bid to settle disputes—mostly those involving murder or other serious crimes in which the clan's prestige is at stake.
Even though Samar has traditionally done research into more positive aspects of Pakhtun life, she just could not bear to keep silent over a topic that may not go down well with the conservative sections of the Pukhtun society.
“I passionately believe in the power of media to change opinion and behaviours. The documentary is a humble but earnest attempt to create awareness regarding the negative implications of this custom.
All my efforts would be worth their while even if one single girl is saved from being given away as ‘swara' to the enemy's family for a crime committed by her brother, father or uncle,”, the Pushtu speaking Samar said while talking to ‘The News' on the eve of her documentary's premier in Peshawar.
The intellectual honesty with which Samar has incorporated all shades of opinion iin the documentary is commendable. Those who defend and believe in the traditional wisdom that may have been at the root of this practice have also found their rightful place in the documentary. These arguments have been tested against the opinions of religious ‘ulema' and senior judge of the Federal Shariat Court .
Having heard everyone's voice, one just cannot help agreeing with the conclusions of the documentary. Samar has made no attempts to ‘soften' her conclusions that are bound to rub conservative elements the wrong way.
“Why hasn't anything been done to abolish a practice that has no standing in Islam, a religion that is totally against treating women as property and possession?
‘Why should a girl be sent to the enemy's home, where even men of the family would not dare to go'? These are just few of the many questions raised by the documentary. The viewer is also surprised at how little has been written about ‘swara' even though it is so common in NWFP.
This is the first time that a documentary has been made on ‘swara' anad Samar shares the credit with GTZ funded ‘Mera Ghar Project' of Aurat Foundation.
It is firmly grounded in field research and has been made in Pushtu, Urdu and English.
|Chapter 1||http://ethnomedia.webs.com/File 01.pdf|
|Chapter 2||http://ethnomedia.webs.com/File 02.pdf|
|Chapter 4||http://ethnomedia.webs.com/File 04.pdf|
|Chapter 5||http://ethnomedia.webs.com/File 05.pdf|
|Chapter 6||http://ethnomedia.webs.com/File 06 Annex.pdf|
|Chapter 7||http://ethnomedia.webs.com/File 07 Annex.pdf|