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The end of a tradition

Zarwali Khoshnood
Tribal elders in Khost have banned the use of girls as reparation for crimes and limited the bride-price
1.05.2011  |  Khost
Elders in Khost. (Photo: Khoshnood) 
Elders in Khost. (Photo: Khoshnood) 

Until very recently, it was common in Nadir Shah Kot to give a girl away as reparation to avenge a crime. The family of a murderer would marry off a daughter to the victim’s brother or son. It was believed, that in this way, harmony could be restored in the community.

Those who follow the tradition will be punished

But in December last year, the tribal elders and religious leaders of Nadir Shah Kot, a district in the Eastern province of Khost, decided otherwise. They gathered to end this age-old abusive practice called baad. Since then, seven other districts, encouraged by the Governor of Khost, Abdul Jabar Naimi, have followed suit. “We agreed that those who are not obeying the rule will have to pay a fine of 80,000 Pakistani rupees (almost 1000 dollars),” says Haji Nazm Zadran, one of the elders of Nadir Shah Kot.

“The intention behind the tradition to give women away was initially a wise one,” he says. The idea was to bring peace between the conflicting families. However, the community now realises that this aim can no longer be achieved. Rather, the practice had increased tensions, Zadran says, and in some cases the girls have committed suicide.

"We turned the life of my sister into hell and buried her alive.”

Instead of peace and harmony, the tradtion lead to more conflict 

“We inherited these harmful practices from our forefathers and cherished them for so long, but in doing so, we have disregarded the rights of girls and women,” says Haji Juma Noor, another tribal elder from Nadir Shah Kot.

Noorwali Zenikhil, a resident of the district, is one of those who lost their sisters to the tradition. 25 years ago she was married by force, after local elders decided to solve a conflict with another family. “We have always said amongst ourselves that we turned the life of my sister into hell and buried her alive,” Zenikhil says. Instead of creating a bond between the families, his people were mocked and insulted by their in-laws. “Every day, we heard that the groom and other family members were beating up my sister.” Zenikhil insists that the tradition contradicts the principles of Islam, because the punishment is not meted out to the perpetrator who committed the crime, but to an innocent member of his family.

Women married through baad are extremely vulnerable to domestic violence        

In Khost, many disputes and even murder cases are not solved by regular courts but by congregations of tribal elders who are supposed to mediate between the families involved. In case of a murder, the family of the perpetrator might be convicted to pay blood money or give a girl as compensation.

“The intention behind the tradition to give women away was initially a wise one.”

Violence against such girls is very common. Even their weddings do not resemble a conventional wedding ceremony. They are simply brought to their new families without any ceremony, like servants with just a set of clothes. Unlike other women, these wives are not allowed to visit their fathers’ houses. And often, they are abused by their new families, treated like slaves, and assigned to hard work in the household. Their in-laws still associate them with the crimes of their relatives and therefore expose them to ridicule, threats and violence. It is a rare exception when baad actually creates a new bond of friendship between the family of the perpetrator of a crime and the family of the victim.

The dowry skyrocketed to 10,000 to 25,000 dollars

The new rules, agreed upon by elders in eight districts of Khost, do not only ban the practice of baad, but they also set a limit to the amount of dowry that can be demanded from a groom.
In recent years, the dowry has skyrocketed to the equivalent of 10,000 to 25,000 dollars. This has forced many young people to postpone their marriages and migrate to Dubai, Iran or even to the West. Some of the youths of Khost have drowned when they tried to reach Europe by boat. Others have lived illegally in Iran under constant threat of being discovered. Earning the required amount of money can take years, in which the fiancé sits at home and waits for her future husband. In some cases, like that of Ghafir, men can never afford to marry and stay single for the rest of their lives. “We are five brothers in a poor family,” says Ghafir, who is an old man. All financial resources of the family went into the wedding ceremonies of the first three sons.

A social death sentence

But now the elders of Nadir Shah Kot and other districts of Khost, such as Spayrah and Tanayoo, have agreed that in future no one will be allowed to pay or accept more than the equivalent of 2,350 dollars as a dowry. Anyone who does will be excluded from the community. An offender may not be invited to any festivities, such as weddings or funerals, nor will anyone participate in his ceremonies. This amounts to a social death sentence.

(Taj Mohammad Mangal has contributed to this report)