Fathers of vani girls ‘more sinned against than sinning’
MULTAN, May 10 2006: Amna Niazi, the girl who recently spearheaded revolt against the widespread vani tradition in Mianwali, and her family are dismayed over the events unfolding since they have come out openly against the cruel custom. Talking to Dawn on May 09, Amna said: “It seems that we are being punished for crying out against the cruelty. Hopes for justice kindled with the intervention of the Supreme Court have been snuffed out as lower courts are constantly denying bails to my (imprisoned) uncles, while the people of rival family have been released after serving only a short stint in the lock-upsÂ”.
A court in Lahore rejected on Monday the bail pleas of Amna’s uncles, Iqbal Khan and Razzaq Khan, when the state counsel contended that the court could not take action in a matter pending with the apex court. Earlier, their bail pleas had been rejected by lower courts of Mianwali, which had granted bails to the accused from among their rival group in the same case.
Under the vani custom, prevalent in the semi-tribal district of Mianwali, and areas of the NWFP where it is called swara, the girls are given in marriage to the men of rival clans to settle disputes, especially those involving bloody feuds. Marriages of Amna Niazi, her two sisters and two cousins were decided some 10 years ago when they had not reached the age of puberty at Sultanwala village of Mianwali, to secure release of their uncle Iqbal Khan, who at that time was behind the bars in an honour-killing case.
On attaining adolescence, the girls led by Amna, however, refused to become scapegoat for no fault of theirs. One of AmnaÂ’s cousins, declared vani, is daughter of Iqbal Khan, while the other is of Razzaq Khan. A student of MA English at a college in neighbouring Khushab district, Amna often attributes her courage to defy vani to her father’s firm stand against the tribal custom in a male-dominated society. Her revolt also encouraged many other girls to say no to marriages decided without their consent.
In some cases, police took action under the amended clauses of the relevant law (310-A PPC) that holds the followers of vani punishable up to 10 years of rigorous imprisonment. But in Amna’s case, the police were not inclined to take action against those allegedly forcing the girls into marriages decided against their consent. The girls’ fathers had apprehended that Mianwali police might be nurturing a grudge against them for exposing the evil of vani, which makes their (police’s) role dubious.
However, the police authorities had at that time denied having any ill will against Amna’s father and uncles. “How we can take action against them (girls’ fathers) when they are supporting their daughters,” Mianwali DPO Zaraat Kiyani had said while dismissing apprehensions of the Khan family. However, the family’s fears proved true when in January this year the police unveiled an FIR registered back in November 2005 against Amna’s father, uncles and a number of rival family persons for practising vani.
Jahan Khan, an accounts officer in a federal government department, alleged that the police kept the FIR secret to let the media hype regarding the vani issue fade away. In the FIR, the police claimed that they had got information that the parents of the girls and their prospective grooms were working out a plan to solemnise marriages under the tradition of vani, which was against section 310-A PPC. He said the police intentions to teach them a lesson were conspicuous from the contents of the FIR.
The police arrested Iqbal Khan, Razzaq Khan and one Aslam Khan of the opponent family, while a court had confirmed pre-arrest bails of the rest of the accused from the rival side. Aslam Khan was also released on bail later on. The apex court took notice of the vani and sawara in December last year, directing the police to ensure security of Khan Sisters. Afterwards, the court had taken up the case on February 22 and April 24 this year. On the last hearing, the apex court ordered that committees be formed at the union council level to help check the vani tradition and abolish the agreements reached under the custom.
Advocate Khalilur Rehman, a rights activist of the area, said that so far no progress had been seen at the administrative level to implement the apex court orders. He also expressed astonishment that those who had allegedly been hurling life threats to get the vani marriages executed were released while those who had taken a principled stand were languishing in the prison.