A story of courage: Villager rescues women from brutal tribal custom

Published: January 14, 2013

This resolve of marriage, known as ‘ghag’ is binding upon the chosen girl and her family, lest she opts to remain unmarried all her life.

PESHAWAR: The jirga’s bombshell did little to stifle Muhammad Nawaz’s hope. “No, not my daughters,” he said to himself. The aggrieved father from Sherkhera village in Peshawar district did everything he could to prevent his nephews from getting away with a marriage claim against his two daughters. He became a fortress against tribal insensitivity, and sought a trusted juror the next day.

For centuries, young girls in the northwestern tribes have shuddered at the word ‘ghag’. These naïve Pushtoon beauties never know when an innocent frolic in the surrounding meadows or mountains may cast a gloom on their fates. A tribal leader, or an influential enemy of their fathers, may set his eyes upon them and make a silent claim of marriage – which neither their tears, nor their families’ pleas could undo. This resolve of marriage, known as ‘ghag’ is binding upon the chosen girl and her family, lest she opts to remain unmarried all her life.

Early last year, Nawaz’s nephews Jehangir and Razzaq laid a claim of marriage upon his daughters Shaista and Razia. To Nawaz’s great dismay, the local jirga issued a hefty fine on the troubled father for humiliating his nephews by trying to defy the ghag claim. Greatly disillusioned, Nawaz turned to the state legal system, only to face yet another bummer: there was not a single clause in Constitution against the custom of ‘ghag’.

Legal experts say that in the absence of any confrontation from ghag victims’ families, no laws had been drafted. “Another reason is that that those laying down a marriage claim on a woman were always influential”, said Muhammad Essa Khan, an advocate of the Supreme Court.

However, Nawaz’s indomitable spirit came to the rescue of his daughters and several other girls. “A man of courage was needed to stand against the custom. Muhammad Nawaz served this need well,” said Khan.

A petition was filed by Nawaz and legal work began in earnest. In January 8, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government finally passed a bill to declare ghag an offence. The Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan served notices against officials concerned asking them to formulate necessary laws to curb the age-old practice.

During a hearing on November 7, the deputy attorney general and additional advocate general appeared before the court with the proposed law. However, interestingly, the law was found full of lacunas as it has proposed a penalty for the girls’ parents, and not on the person who makes the claim. It was sent back for further tweaking.

On January 8, The Elimination of Custom of Ghag Bill 2012 was introduced before the K-P assembly.  Tabled by Provincial Minister for Social Welfare Sitara Ayaz, the bill calls for making ‘ghag’ a cognisable, non-bailable and non-compoundable offence and prohibits a person from demanding a woman for marriage by making a public declaration, and using force or criminal means for marriage.

Ratified by the provincial assembly, the bill has been written in law. Violators can be punished or imprisoned from between five and seven years and be liable to a fine of Rs0.5 million or both. Ghag victims’ knocks on the court’s door will not be met with silence now.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 14th, 2013.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • Nauman
    Jan 14, 2013 - 7:30AM

    Good example for our neighbours to emulate…..where lower-caste girls are routinely subjected to horrible marriages by khap panchayats.

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  • Khan Gul
    Jan 14, 2013 - 7:49AM

    What’s the big deal about ghag ????? I know a guy who did “ghag” on some girls and the girls father and brothers shaved his head and eyebrows off

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  • KH
    Jan 14, 2013 - 9:36AM

    @Khan Gul:
    will this be the same case if the Son of an influential claims GHAG?

    Secondly in civilised societies people dont do justice by them selves. Then you guys compare Pakistan with US and UK.

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  • azmayra
    Jan 14, 2013 - 10:06AM

    Bravo! Finally, such a relief to see some ray of light amidst all the chaos prevailing in the country.

    Way to go Nawaz! Truly an inspiration!

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  • Akshay, India
    Jan 14, 2013 - 11:23AM

    @Nauman: Yes, we can learn from each other. You can learn from our secularism.

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  • Aijaz Haider
    Jan 14, 2013 - 11:33AM

    Some good news at last. Karo-Kari, ghag, marriage to Quran, etc. all such custom should be banned.

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  • Jan 14, 2013 - 4:44PM

    Can’t there be a search of such unjust costumes/ traditions prevailing in the tribal area of Pakistan and a movement in the court of law be made for remedial / removal action?

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  • Jan 14, 2013 - 4:55PM

    @Nauman:
    “Good example for our neighbours to emulate…..where lower-caste girls are routinely subjected to horrible marriages by khap panchayats.”

    you need to correct your information . In the Indian legal system neither Khap Panchayats nor any body else is permitted for any forcible marriage. Any action ( offence ) violating the law of India whoever , irrespective of his clout and influence in the politics or elsewhere has been convicted and sent behind the bars.. Does Pakistan has any thing to learn from the neighbor ?

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  • M.paki
    Jan 14, 2013 - 5:43PM

    this is good news indeed. peaceful times are coming, we just need to stay strong and support our Country and hold on firmly to the dictates of The Quraan and do good in our capacity. Pakistan Zindabad

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  • Concerned
    Jan 15, 2013 - 4:31AM

    @p r sharma: Ah, the stellar Indian legal system. No wonder it took millions to protest against a brutal gang rape for the perpetrators to be punished. Let us stop this jingoistic nonsense; both countries have appropriate laws and legal codes, but their practice is woefully lacking.
    Indians may claim modernity, but your society faces the same problems we do – you’re just not under as much scrutiny, nor do you face a horde of Pakistanis scouring your news websites trying to prove one country is ‘better’ than the other.

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  • Biff Henderson
    Jan 15, 2013 - 5:47AM

    Being one that is often accused of representing a group that is a corrupting influence on the traditional belief systems in Pakistan, this American is pleased to hear that a semblance of sanity and human decency has prevailed regarding “Ghag.” It saddens me as one that values individual choice regarding a marriage partner that the legislation as it now stands had to fight tooth and nail against forces in your society that desired to keep in place one more tradition of many that treats women like chattel. Sharia Law will never allow women to be treated as determiners of their own fate in regards to marriage(And to count remaining unmarried as a choice is foolish and dishonest and insincere) and the fact of the matter is this legislation lifts a burden from the father but does nothing for any prospective bride. My heart goes out to Muslim women(poor souls) whose spirits are crushed by masters that claim they are acting in their best interests. The blind obedience that parents claim is their right under Sharia Law subject their children to untold misery because they refuse to put the desires of those they claim to love above their own.

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  • stranger
    Jan 15, 2013 - 9:41PM

    Great news. such things should be brought to the public notice .

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  • DilliNiwasi
    Jan 17, 2013 - 8:51AM

    @Concerned:
    It seems you believe only in extremes- either Not there or There. There is a huge range of possibilities in between and the negatives in India pale in comparison to the negative happenings in Pakistan. SO there is NO comparison between the 2 countries. Pakistan has much longer to go as compared to India and need to do more.

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