By Ali Afzal, Mahrukh Jabeen,
Women are regarded as a symbol of dignity and respect in the tribal society of Pakistan. It is mainly due to the teachings of Islam which gives special emphasize on the rights of women. However, there still exist some tribes which trade women as commodities.
The custom to give a bride in exchange of money is still being practiced by the tribesmen of Para-Chamkani and Mangal tribes in Kurram agency.
Apart from its other notorious impacts on the society, the custom, locally called as “rasmana”, is also a major impediment in marriages particularly for the financially poor tribal youth who cannot pay the “head-money” of their would-be brides.
According to local tribesmen, the overall inflation in economy has also affected the rasmana custom and its rate has been increased manifold over the past few years.
“In past, people used to take Rs200,000 to Rs300,000 in exchange of giving the hands of their daughters and sisters but now due to continuous inflation in the country, the rate has surged to almost Rs5million,” said Haji Kabir Khan, an elder of the Para-Chamkani tribe.
The tribal elder informed that the custom was being commonly practiced by the tribesmen. “The general rate varies from Rs1million to Rs5million. It depends on the social status of the family. The more it is reputed, the high is the rate of its girls,” he explained.
“If someone wants to marry in a poor family, he will have to pay Rs800,000 to Rs1.2 million. However, if someone wants to marry a girl from a rich family, he has to arrange about Rs5million in addition to gold ornaments and a bungalow,” Haji Kabir informed.
Ghazni Gul, another tribal elder said that the custom had made it almost impossible for a tribesman to marry without selling his family land or woods in the mountains.
Gulbat Khan, a tribesman from the Para-Chamkani tribe says he has reached to 40 years of age and is still unable to get married because he cannot pay for his marriage.
“There are hundreds of people like me who are unable to fulfill their dreams of becoming groom due to the practice of rasmana custom,” he regrets. “My thin financial position doesn’t allow me to arrange other prerequisites of marriage. How can I meet the requirements of rasmana custom,” he asked.
A right activist Azmat Alizai observes that girls married in exchange of money usually have hard post-marriage lives.
“The girls married as per rasmana custom are not much respected by their in-laws. They are generally treated like slaves and taunted by in-laws,” Alizai remarks. “Sometimes the “sold” girls commit suicide because they have been living a miserable life,” he adds.
Hidayatullah, an elder of the Para-Chamkani tribe, supports the rasmana custom, saying, “the brides given in exchange of money are usually more respected in their in-laws.” “The sold brides are treated like gold. People general take extra care of precious things,” he contended.
Hidayatullah maintains that a major portion of the money received from the groom’s family is usually spent on the dowry of the bride. Some of the amount is spent to arrange other requirements of the marriage while the girls’ families receive a meager portion of the “head-money”, he adds.
However, right activist Azmat Alizai doesn’t agree with this argument. He contends that like male members of a family, female members have also predefined shares in their family inheritance.“ Therefore, If a person doesn’t bother to give due share to his daughters or sisters in family’s inheritance, he should at least arrange dowry for them,” he stresses.
Bas Bibi is one such case whose martial life has been ruined by the rasmana custom. Bibi, who hials from Parachinar, while narrating her ordeal, reveals that she was sold by her family in the name of notorious tribal tradition of rasmana.
“From day one, my ex-husband adopted a hostile attitude with me. I repeatedly demanded divorce from him but to no avail. Finally, a jirga was constituted which endorsed our separation after fifteen years.”
“Had my father not taken money from the groom’s family, I would not have undergone such a miserable treatment for fifteen long years,” she laments. “Whenever I would ask for a divorce, my ex-husband used to taunt me that he had “bought” me. Now that a jirga decided our separation, it also decreed that i should pay a loan of Rs800,000 outstanding against my ex-husband.”
“Fifteen years of my life were wasted. On the contrary, I have been asked to pay Rs800,000 loan. Its all due to the tribal custom of rasmana ,” she maintains.
The religion Islam strongly prohibits its followers from trading human beings as commodities. Cleric Baqir Ali Haidri says Islam is strongly against selling and buying of human being.“People involve in trading of human beings are declared as worst by the religion. Islam doesn’t allow anyone to make fellow human beings their slaves,” Haidri informs.
Legal experts have also been censuring the rasmana custom. Advocate Murtaza Turi says giving girls in exchange of money is a sort of human smuggling, which is prohibited by the constitution of the country.
“Every victim of rasmana custom can adopt legal procedure for their rights. Since it is violation of basic human rights, the victims can approach the Fata secretariat or any other forum,” he suggests.
Assistant political agent of the Upper Kurram Shahid Ali Khan says whenever he has received complaints about selling of girls in matters of marriages, he has taken action against it. “About two months ago, we foiled an attempt of trafficking a “sold” girl to Afghanistan. The human traffickers have been sentenced as per the law and are languishing in jail,” the official informs. “The political administration has held several rounds of negotiations with the local elders to put an end to this notorious tribal tradition of rasmana. “Efforts are underway to eliminate this practice and announce a specific punishment for those violating the law in future,” he reveals.
Fata, one of the most backward areas in Pakistan, is still governed under the colonial law of Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR). The federal government has been mulling to introduce reforms in Fata and in this regard a high level committee constituted by the government has proposed reforms package for the region after consulting with the local people. Among others, one of the recommendations of the committee is to replace FCR with Rivaj Act which will govern FATA in accordance with tribal traditions.
Legal experts say if Rivaj Act provides protection to some notorious traditions being practiced in tribal areas such as rasmana, it will bring no positive change in the lives of the tribal people particularly women.