The menace of swara
On September 10, the police arrested 10 men who are implicated in the ordering of a 13-year-old girl to marry an elderly man in Mingora, in order to settle a feud between two families. The tradition, known as swara, is a Pashtun custom of forcibly marrying girls to men of rival families to settle disputes. In this case, the girl was used to compensate for an extramarital affair her brother had with a woman from the other family, else the girl’s family would have had to pay Rs253,000 or face imprisonment.
One of the most disturbing aspects of this story is that the jirga took place at a police station, which later arrested the offenders. Hopefully, the public pressure that ensued once the story appeared in the media, changed the minds of the authorities. The police, along with the jirga, are at fault for trying to make the girl act against her will. This is highly condemnable as the police are responsible for protecting the rights of citizens.
Conversely, the girl and her family who raised their voice and reported the case to lawyers and the court should be commended for their courage because in Pakistan, often stories only get public attention after a wrong has been committed, rather than before, when someone comes forward to bring attention to an imminent tragedy. The positive outcome in this story is that attention was brought to the issue and action was taken before injustice was delivered.
Now, facing pressure from the courts, the police have formed a committee to investigate the case. While it is a welcome move, a committee should not have to be formed every time tragedy or scandals strike. Specialised teams should already be in place to investigate specific issues that plague our society, such as swara and ‘honour’ killings, domestic, child and labour abuse, youth labour and beggar gangs. Additionally, a committee should be overseeing or working collaboratively with jirgas, if they must exist at all, to ensure their rulings in all cases are just.