Botched ballots: Tribal women stand like a rock, refuse to abandon protest camp
PARACHINAR: Tribal women from the upper parts of Kurram Agency are showing exceptional resilience in their protest against alleged rigging in NA-37, refusing to budge from the demonstration camp they set up on May 14 in front of the political agent’s office.
“We were told you are weak and cannot rise for your rights, but here we have gathered 900 women who are demanding their political rights,” said Zainab Hussain, a polling agent who was allegedly thrashed by armed men at the polling station in Pewar. Her speech was punctuated by loud slogans against former MNA Sajid Hussain Tori and political administration officials who have been accused of rigging.
Zainab has successfully managed to lead the protest – now in its eighth day – at Shaheed Park, in front of the political agent’s office in Parachinar. Zainab said she came out of her house on May 11 to take part in free and fair elections and was assigned the duty of a polling agent by former air marshal Qaiser Hussain Shah, an independent candidate from NA-37.
According to Zainab, armed men – who she alleges to be affiliated with Sajid Hussain Tori – barged in the polling station and forced the women to vote for Tori. She added that upon her refusal she was slapped and threatened. “I am a witness. Sajid Hussain was doing this with the support of the K-P governor and political administration officials,” she alleged.
Another protester at the camp, Asya Bibi served as the polling agent at a station in Luqman Khel and has been present at the demonstration since day one. She claimed Political Agent Riaz Mehsud was hearing the slogans, but not responding. “We came out for our polling rights.”
Asya Bibi also blames Sajid Hussain Tori for not allowing women to cast their vote, adding the turnout of female voters in the 2008 elections was the highest in NA-37 as compared to the rest of the tribal belt despite sectarian violence. She claimed the turnout this year was nearly 82%, but women were barred from casting their ballot.
But it is not just rigging that concerns Asya Bibi. She criticised the Frontier Crimes Regulation, terming it draconian. “If the tribesmen cannot raise their voice for their right, the tribal women have the enthusiasm to fight for their rights,” she said, adding most men are appreciative of their efforts but cannot openly endorse them due to social constraints.
Nargis Hussain, who hails from Parachinar, told The Express Tribune via phone that around 900 to 1,000 women gather each morning to protest at the camp, while most return home in the evenings to tend to household chores. Around 100 women, however, stay back at night in the camp, which has not been completely devoid of protesters at any given time since May 14. “We will remain here until ECP recounts the votes in the constituency,” said Nargis, adding they have decided to field a woman candidate in the next elections. “We will surely win.”
Source: The Express Tribune