'Stigmatised' Sindhi women publicly announcing 'free-will' marriages to end harassment
Hyderabad (Pakistan), Sept 3(ANI): Honour killings and forced marriages in Sindh receive wide attention in the Pakistani media, but what is less known is that that young women from the province frequently publish announcements in Sindhi newspapers, declaring their free-will marriages.
As a way of fending off allegations that they have been abducted or have committed adultery, it is a bold move by these women, but is known to few people beyond the readership of Sindh's regional papers, the Dawn reports.
A study carried out by Kawish, a widely circulated Sindhi daily, shows that an average of four to five couples announce these free-will marriages in the newspaper every day, and an executive in charge of advertisements there says that this number can reach as high as eight or nine a day, the report said.
Couples who come to the newspaper's officers belong to a wide range of districts, tribes and castes of Sindh, including its Hindu communities, although most do not come from affluent families.
Some couples are sometimes too poor to afford regular rates, often scared for their lives, and sometimes send a relative or lawyer instead of risking a visit themselves.
Before publishing the advertisements the newspaper asks for signatures and NICs from the couples, attested affidavits, and photographs of the women involved.
Mayaram Rathi, a manager who handles advertising for daily Ibrat, explains that this is not a new phenomenon and that such advertisements have been published for the last three decades, the report said.
They include various kinds of cases ranging from teenage girls being forced to marry much older men, women being forced to marry men they do not know and parents breaking engagements for monetary reasons.
In some instances, the announcements are published by Hindu girls who have chosen Muslim husbands, declaring that they have converted to Islam, often adding that they were inspired by Muslim neighbours they had been visiting since their childhoods.
One reason for the women to opt for this bold step is to prevent harassment by police or simply to seek the protection of law enforcers and the judicial system from their families, who lodge FIRs of theft or kidnapping, and pressurise the couples through their communities or seek the help of jirgas, the report said.
But according to social worker Lala Hassan Pathan, who has been working on cases of violence against women and free-will marriages for the last seven years, police seldom take note of these announcements or keep them on record, it added.
According to the report, the couples themselves send clippings to local police officers, who rarely take action based on them and sometimes register kidnapping cases on the parents' behalf despite the existence of these declarations under oath.
On the other hand, the publication of these announcements may provoke parents and other relatives, and has been followed by the women's deaths in some instances, according to women's rights activist Arfana Mallah. (ANI)
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