Questions have been raised over the fate of five Kohistani women – even after social activists vouched for their safety – who were condemned to death by a local jirga after mobile phone footage emerged of them mingling with men and singing at a village wedding.
Human rights activists Riffat Butt, Farzana Bari, Fauzia Saeed and Shabina Ayaz claimed the other three women were in another village rendered inaccessible by bad weather.
“I met two women and they are alive. I was told three others are also alive. They are in their homes far away in mountainous areas. I could not go there,” rights activist Farzana Bari had said after her return from the region.
Precise details of the case, however, have been shrouded in mystery. The identities of the two women, Shaheen and Amna, were ascertained only by their resemblance to those in the video. The women do not have national identity cards.
Furthermore, Kohistani women do not understand Urdu, Punjabi or even Hindko, and the language they speak, Shina, was not understood by the rights’ activists.
Two interpreters – both members of the same jirga that allegedly issued the death decree – mediated between the girls and the activists. Interestingly, one of the translators, Maulvi Javed, is the head of the jirga.
“How can they (the translators) voice opinions against their own decision and translate accurately what the women want to say,” questioned a source familiar with the matter.
The social workers, however, seem to be undeterred by this fact. They maintain that the women seemed confident during their encounter and bore no marks of physical oppression.
“After landing in the Seertaiy village of Peech Bala, we walked for about an hour and a half to meet the male members of the tribe. They were resentful at first, but later agreed to let us speak to the women,” Riffat Butt told i.
Butt said they were allowed to film the women after repeated assurances that the footage was only meant for the court. “The women identified themselves, pointing to where they were sitting in the room as the video was shown to them.”
Butt added that she was satisfied with their assertions about themselves and the other three women. She said Shaheen appeared to be around 15, while Amina was in her twenties.
Shaheen is the younger sister of Bazgha, one of the three who are yet to be seen. Shaheen told Butt that her sister was in another village at the time but that she had met her three days earlier. “She said the village was about five to six hours on foot and that we could either walk through the difficult terrain or wait for them to return in the evening.”
Asked why then the rights activists did not wait to see the rest of the women, Butt said one of the pilots, citing bad weather, advised them to take-off by 11 am.
Butt said male members of the tribe were alright with them waiting there, but they had to leave due to the unfavourable weather. “Officers of the civil administration had also been with us since a day and a half and had to return to Islamabad.”
Butt said another team would visit the region shortly to verify that the rest of the women had not been slaughtered either.
However, Muhammad Afzal, the brother of the two men who reportedly filmed and appeared in the video, is still adamant that the women are dead.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2012.
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