A two-hour long helicopter ride from Islamabad brought us to Pattan, one of the four tehsils of Kohistan district. I was one of four women selected in an ad hoc delegation by the Chief Justice to confirm the facts about the widely circulated report of the murder of five women in this area.
The Chief Secretary of KP, Ghulam Dastgir, organized the delegation with the assistance of the Hazara Commissioner, Khalid Khan Omerzai. After a quick investigation by our team in Pattan and Dasu, we flew in three helicopters to the village of these girls, Sertai, at 6 the next morning.
A long search resulted in identifying two of the five girls, Amina and Shaheen, who were quite embarrassed, but so far, unharmed. They assured our group that the others were also safe. Thus, it appears that our trip confirmed the earlier claims of the KP government.
The main question that can be asked then is why did the story gain national attention? The story reported on Monday in the press was pretty much correct. The gathering happened almost a year ago, but the cellphone video appeared only recently, perhaps by accident, and spread like wildfire. The boys involved have been arrested on the charge of defaming the family of the girls and one of their brothers spread the false news that the girls had been killed, possibly to prevent that from happening to his brothers.
Although it might be fair to say that foreign news media are too quick to believe such stories about Pakistan, there are serious issues related to regions like Kohistan that need our attention. The case opened up conversations where people told us that several killings have happened after husbands suspected a link between his wife with another man. They said they “don’t waste the jirga’s time” on what they called “women matters.”
Two shop keepers said a husband has to take care of the man involved. It is the brother who is expected to kill his sister, the offending wife. They said at least they don’t throw acid on them like is done in the rest of the country. Bullets are apparently not wasted on their “own women”.
They simply use a hatchet or a knife to slit her throat or throw her off a ridge into the river. Upon asking whether things will change for women in this area, one man said, “They already have. We hardly have the old tradition of cutting off their nose and the ears; nowadays we simply kill them. This is more humane.”
One man from Sertai argued that the murders could not have happened because there had been no funeral prayers. I argued that usually in Pakistan women who are killed in the name of honour do not get a funeral prayer. He quickly retorted, “Not in our culture! When I killed my sister we had a proper funeral. You can ask my fellow villagers!”
Almost all people we talked to told us that the ulema have a strong grip over this region. One of them gave a fatwa that education is haram for women. Therefore a middle school for girls remains vacant. A few primary schools exist for deviant families but moving out of Kohistan is really the only options for those who want to educate their daughters. We learned about quite a long list of fatwas about women.
The attention given to this incident by the KP government, our judiciary and the media might just become a tipping point. At least the village we visited clapped when Mian Iftikhar, Minister of Information said that finding the girls alive has restored the dignity of women in Kohistan and Pakistan.
We cannot leave areas like Kohistan without basic facilities, livelihood opportunities, limited access through roads and hardly any education. Perhaps this case was a blessing in disguise to bring all this attention to Kohistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 8th, 2012.
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