We Need More Outrage Against Vani in Pakistan

Posted on August 16, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Law & Justice, Society, Women
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Adil Najam

Artwork by Arbo at FlickrAll major newspapers prominently reported the decision from the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordering “the arrest of the members of a jirga, including PPP MNA Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, that decided to hand over five minor girls for marriage to a family to compensate for a murder in Jacobabad. Three of the 14 jirga members are already in police custody and the court ordered the arrest of the other 11″ (Daily Times).

The decision is, indeed, good news and continues the minor trend over the last number of years of increasing activism by the courts and government on this issue. But let us be clear. While this is good news and while there is a perceptible but minor trend, the trend is far from sufficient and it is not only the courts and the government that need to put their foot down more forcefully but society at large also needs to show its outrage more forcefully than it has.

The practice of Vania custom in which blood feuds are settled with forced marriages, often with minors – is not just criminal it is inhuman. It is not enough to say that we disapprove of this because it ‘brings disgrace to Pakistan’s name.’ We must shout out against practices like Vani, Karo Kari, etc. because it is an outrage against humanity. How can one hear about this without it offending us to the core of our being? How can one not feel one’s essential humanity being violated? This is not about tradition or custom. This is a clear case of viewing women as commodity that can be traded as a ‘currency’ to ‘pay for’ the sins of men. I cannot imagine how it cannot ignite the deepest sense of disgust at the very core of one’s bones.

The fact of the matter is that most (the vast vast majority) of Pakistanis, including the government, do disapprove of Vani and consider it wrong. But simply considering it wrong is not enough. One has to consider it vile. There seem enough people, unfortunately, who worry about it only to the extent that it brings Pakistan’s name into disrepute. That is neither a good reason nor enough of a reason to do so. It leads only to lukewarm opposition and an apologistic response rather than real an meaningful steps to stomp on the practice.

The apologists – and I suspect we will see there here soon enough – will raise silly excuses about how the practice gets highlighted in the media only because the ‘world’ hates Pakistan or Islam! Such delusion is deplorable as well as dangerous. But it is also rather widespread. Equally silly, and maybe even more insulting, are the rants of those who will cry hoarse about how injustice against women happens everywhere, so why should this practice in Pakistan be highlighted. This argument – if it can be called one – totally boggles the mind. What are they saying? Are they saying that because bad things also happen to women elsewhere so it is OK to treat women badly in Pakistan? And how is this argument not a defense of those who are doing these bad things to Pakistani women? Should we ourselves not be highlighting these injustices ourselves so that we can actually do something about it? Or have we lost touch with our humanity to such as extent that we would rather have such vile acts ignored rather than give the country a bad name? What is really giving the country a bad name is not just that such things happen but that too many of us are willing to ignore these practices and to, de facto, defend them.

This is why the decision from the Supreme Court is a good one. Here are some details from Dawn:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the arrest of 11 members of a jirga, including PPP MNA Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, for handing over five minor girls to the family of a murdered man as compensation to settle the dispute in Jacobabad. A five-member Supreme Court bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Javed Iqbal, Justice Sardar Mohammad Raza Khan, Justice Faqir Mohammad Khokhar and Justice M. Javed Buttar took up a complaint of a freelance anthropologist Samar Minallah against the handing over of five girls — Aamna, 5, Bashiran, 2, (daughters of Rahmatullah), Shehzadi, 6, Meerzadi, 2, (daughters of Hafeezullah) and Noor Bano, 3, (daughter of Yar Ali) — to the family of the murdered man as compensation.

The Supreme Court had in June last year frozen the jirga decision to hand over the minors and ordered police to submit an inquiry report within two weeks. The District Police Officer (DPO) Kashmore was told to conduct an inquiry and arrest the jirga members. When DPO Noor Mohammad informed the court on Wednesday that police had arrested three members of the 14-man jirga, namely Hafiz Qamaruddin, Yar Ali and Rehmat, the CJ asked why were influential people not arrested. “Are you afraid of them?” The DPO explained that he had assumed his duties just one and half months ago. At this, the bench said that police always picked up poor people and were afraid of arresting influential people. The rest of eleven members of the jirga nominated in the FIR are Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani, Peer Bharchoondi Mian Abdul Khalique, Thull Tehsil Nazim Syed Ali Akbar Banglani, Ghulam Rasool Banglani, Syed Jalal Shah, Raza Mohammad Banglani, Qamaruddin Banglani, Hafiz Banglani, Habib Banglani and two others.

The jirga presided over by Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani had ordered the handing over of five minors to the victim’s family and imposed a fine of Rs1 million on both the warring parties to settle a decade-old feud. The feud began in 1997 when one Miandad Banglani was killed in a shootout between Hafiz Qamaruddin and Ali Yar Banglani groups over karo-kari (honour killing) charges in the Kamal Magsi village, Thull tehsil of Jacobabad district. Police registered the case after nine years that too after the media highlighted the injustice. The event of the jirga was recorded by a regional television and was shown during the hearing. The video footage contained statements of Yar Ali and Rehmatullah, fathers of three of the girls, endorsing the allegations that the girls had been given in to the victim’s family as compensation and the decision of marriage had been taken up by the jirga. The case will be taken up again on September 3.

I am very glad that all newspapers have covered this news prominently. However, I suspect that they may have done so for the wrong reasons. For some it is one more piece of evidence in the new assertiveness of the courts and the Chief Justice. For others it is the fact that a sitting MPA from PPP is the focus of the decision. Both are rather petty issues in comparison to the enormity of the real issue here – the plight of these and all the other young girls who have been violated through this custom of Vani.

Part of the reason for the unpleasant sense that continues to bug me is that no newspaper seems to have any real information on what has happened to – or will happen to – the girls in question. What about them? I hope I am wrong and we will soon hear about them from the journalists and from the Courts. I will be severely disappointed if it turns out that this is big news simply because it involves a PPP MNA and an activist Chief Justice. I would be disappointed, but not surprised.

30 responses to “We Need More Outrage Against Vani in Pakistan”

  1. Hafeez Malik says:

    HRCP Report.

    Case Two:

    On June 6, Mr. Sarmad, a journalist of Sindh TV was seriously injured after he had issued reports on the illegal

  2. this custom of settling disputes .. called swara in NWFP and vanni in punjab/? upper sindh
    Samar Minallah is one of the few ladies i have admired for a while…do look up her work .. a number of good documentaries
    and the video shinwarey lewangeena,
    the folk singers zarsanga and daud hanif are legends in NWFP.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oFPBuCPDZrg

    ps :is this mir bijrani the same person who was the railway minister 15-20 yrs ago.

  3. Arjumand says:

    This practice by a few people brings disgrace to our country and our religion and cruel to women. Adil Najam is right we should all speak out more against this and make sure to disgrace people who do this. PPP should publicly kick out this politician from their party

  4. cynic says:

    it is pure and simple be-ghairati. our pseudo-machismo tramples on the noble tradition of chivalry. most of the ills in our society stem from the lack or absence of ghairat. Abraham Lincoln once said “to sin by silence when they should speak out makes cowards of men”. I disagree with the standard argument of blaming the government for not doing anything to stop practices like vani and karo-kari. these are evils which stem from social behaviour. behaviours can not be changed by the government but by those who consider it wrong and speak out when they see it happening around them. if they keep quiet they may be the next victims or worse still, the unwilling perpetrators of such a be-ghairat custom.

  5. Amra says:

    Affan, point taken. However, even the education system in Pakistan does not do much to change the way people think. At least until I was there ( I don’t know about now). There are a lot of parhey likhay jahils out there. The core mentality of people needs to be addressed.

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