Shehnaz Bibi: bruised but defiant -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Shehnaz Bibi: bruised but defiant

By Owais Tohid

When Shehnaz Bibi was paraded naked on the streets on the orders of a local jirga, it was meant to humiliate her and make her life not worth living. In conservative tribal and feudal systems such victims are usually ostracised. But Shehnaz, despite her scarred soul, is ready to fight back and seeks justice.

“I had few choices. Either to commit suicide by jumping in a well or spend my life shedding tears. Or I could challenge and fight back against this barbarity,” says the middle-aged woman. She was punished for no crime of her own. Almost a week ago, Shehnaz’s fate changed. Before, she was just a simple, uneducated peasant of a small hilly village, Nilour Bala, some 20 kilometres south of Haripur city.

On that day, she was making lassi for herself and eleven-year-old son, Shebaz, who had just returned from school, oblivious of the fact that hundreds of yards away from her mud-brick house, around twenty village elders were issuing the “inhuman” verdict.

The influential village landlord and notorious arms dealer, Bashir Khan, was heading the punchayet. The complainants in front of punchayet, were four brothers — Manzoor, Imran, Zahoor, and Salman — believed to be the carriers of Bashir Khan’s arms wheeling dealing. The brothers alleged that Shehnaz’s son along with young man had illicit relationship with a girl, married to one of them. The landlord, Bashir Khan, saw a cleric, Syed Sakhawat Shah, coming out of the mosque. “Maulana Sahib, jaldi ain yahan gaoon ki izzat neelam hogai hai aur aap ko itni dafa bulana par raha hai (hurry up maula Sahib, here honour of the whole village is at stake and we have to invite you so many times,” a villager quoted him as saying.

The cleric and punchayet announced the verdict. “Sumera is now haram for her husband according to Islam. You have to immediately divorce her.” The fuming brothers shouted, “We will have to take revenge for our honour.” Then Bashir Khan, according to the witness accounts collected by police investigators, announced the rest of the verdict by saying, “And now the punchayet gives you the right to settle your score with the woman of the sinner’s family who dishonored you.”

Back inside the house, Shehnaz was taking a nap when the four armed brothers stormed into her house. “They pulled my hair, dragged me through streets all the way to the markaz of the village. I kept on shouting and screaming and they kept on tearing my clothes,” she recalls.

“I kept on begging them, I kept on asking for help from the villagers, my own people whom my generations have spent their lives with.” “When there was no help in sight, I just shut my eyes. They were forcing me to walk in that condition at gunpoint and I wanted to die. But then I listened to my son’s wailing. He was running after me by saying ‘ammi, ammi tum bohat bhadur ho (mother you are very brave)” After an hour of this ordeal, Shehnaz after regaining her consciousness held her son’s hand ran to take shelter. She returned to her house, changed her clothes and waited till the sunset. Once darkness enfolded the village, she quietly left the house and walked across the mountain and hid herself in a jungle all night long, fearing death and further degradation.

Next morning, her husband Muhammad Sarwar, an employee at a private company in Lahore, and their son, Kazim Khan, who was accused of committing adultery with the village girl, joined her secretly in Haripur, and then took refuge at a relative’s house in a different village.

Meanwhile, the incidence came to notice of the police and local journalists. The police official, Muhammad Arshad, who is himself the complainant and investigating officer in the case, says the two accused, Raqib Khan and Matloob Khan, have been arrested, while five including the main accused notorious arms dealer, Bashir Khan, are still at large. Police say the accused could face life imprisonment to death sentence, if proven guilty.

Shehnaz Bibi, supported by her husband, is adamant to fight the case. “We could have never imagined that a woman from poor and conservative background could speak against injustices. She is emerging as the symbol of defiance and resistance against feudal and tribal system, like Mukhtaran Mai,” says Abrar Shah, a Haripur-based social activist at NGO, Rural Development Programme (RDP) assisting victim and her family.

But the clouds of fear are still hovering over Shehnaz Bibi and her family, who are in hiding. “They have money and power. They can kill my whole family and me. I won’t sleep in peace till my culprits are arrested and punished.” “I will go to my native village only when I see them punished so nobody dared to take revenge through woman.”

The writer is a leading Pakistani journalist. He can be reached at owais.tohid.csm@gmail.com
Source: Daily Times
Date:6/16/2011