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Shaista Almani’s Marriage: Political Noise and Silence for Political Gains.

 

Nadeem Yousaf

 It is rife in Pakistan that couples who sign marriage papers first falling in love are discriminated from those couples who enter in the wedlock through the traditional arrange marriage system. Love marriages are despised and considered as stigma that stains so-called family honor. In many case, they have not been only socially discriminated but killed on the name of family honor. What has happened in Shasta Almani’s case is neither alien nor atypical to Pakistani Society but an epitome of social injustice.

A short background of the case is that Shaista Almani and Balakh Sher Mahar fell in love and wanted to marry with each other. Following the tradition, Mr.Mahar sent marriage proposal for Ms. Almani but it was rejected on the grounds that he, though Muslim, belonged to a different tribe. So they married without the consent of their families and tribes in August 2003 and fled from their village, Panu Aakil.  Their legitimate action wobbled the tribes to the extent that they wanted to kill the couple on the ground of family honor. After tracking down the couple whereabouts and getting them back in the village, Mr. Mahar was forced by elders of the tribe, police and other influential people to divorce Ms.Almani to settle the issue and restore so-called family honor. In addition, it is reported that the Mahar tribe has paid between 300,000 to 500,000 to Almani tribe as a penalty. Shaista Almani case is another case that has exposed the ugly face and obscene behavior of Pakistani society in general and the culture of feudal and clans in particular. Ms. Almani case appears to be settled and it is hoped no attempt would be made either on the life of Mr. Mahar or Ms. Almani and both will remain unscathed; however, the case has left behind a lot questions and issues which should be discussed.
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A significant question, which is not discussed at length in any forum, is validity of divorce under coerce or threat. All media investigations clearly indicate that Mr. Mahar was threatened that there would be bloodshed if he refused to act upon the wishes of the willful tribes. Mr. Mahar explicitly stated and confirmed in the court that he had given divorce under threat. The reports are that a senior advocate and police officials, Ghotki District Nazim, chief of the Mahar clan, Sardar Ali Gohar Khan Mahar and others have helped him in preparing statement of divorce in which he said that he divorced her on October 24, 2003 while Ms Alamani said on Dececmber 17 in the court that she was not aware of that she was divorced. The court should have taken Suo Moto notice of the incident and declared the divorce null and void with immediate effect. No religion including Islam allows any individual or a wild group of people to separate the couple by force. Will a divorce be valid if a villain come in a house and ask a man to divorce his wife? JUST PONDER.  Mullahs and the society are agreed upon that the act of divorce is highly despicable in Islam so the question is as to why Mullahs and bigwigs of the society remained salient on this incident. The divorce is a victory of the obscurant forces who managed to unfasten a solemnized pledge of a couple to live together throughout the life.

Ironically, religious/spiritual-cum-political factions such as MMA who claim to be champions of Islam (though they are not) did not utter a word during the whole incident in support of the marriage of MS. Almani and Mr. Mahar. No wonder, whenever there is a question of human rights within the country these people always take a back seat (this we have also experienced when MMA government in NWFP reacted mildly in the case some gay teachers who sexually abused their students; though the action is strictly prohibited in Islam and verses are in the Holy Quraan). MMA along with their acolytes might have gone berserk and passed fatwa forthwith if the Supreme Court had declared divorce null and void on the grounds that it was given under pressure. Possibly, zealots of the same faction would have threatening sit-ins if the matter was of punishing someone in the name of Islam. They remained silent and hardly supported Ms.Almani and Mr. Mahar case because they did not want to hurt their political vested interests which they generally promote by exploiting religious sentiments of masses. Listening to the interviews of religious scholars given to private TV channels, it is clear that there is consensus among major Muslim sects that female consent is obligatory for marriage; parents or guardian cannot compel or coerce a female to marry a person of their choice which implies that the Veto power rests with the female and she has freedom to decide with whom she wants to marry. It is nowhere stipulated in the Quran, which enlightens us about religious doctrines, that parents or guardian presence is required to complete the marriage ceremony.  

It is indeed appreciable that people spoke against the terrible and inhuman tribal customs and power Jirga making decisions against the human rights; however it also distressing that people used the case to advance their profile or settle the score with their political rivals. The case might have not caught attention of print and electronic media if the bigwigs had not found it the right opportunity to settle their scores with political rivalries or an occasion to improve political image.

If Balak Sher Mahar had not from the same tribe as of the sitting Chief Minister of Sind, Ali Muhammad Mahar, whose brother heading the Mahar tribe, it is quite likely that the case would have gone without being noticed as happened with other cases in the past. As a matter of fact, the case only got popularity in December while the couple was fleeing since August. The popularity of the case corresponds with the time when Deputy Speaker of the Sindh Assembly, Rahila Tiwana and provincial Population Planning Minister, Imtiaz Ahmad Shaikh had developed differences with the Chief Minister and the opposing group wanted to unseat him from the top Executive position of the province. In contrast, supporters of the Chief Minister were not as sympathetic as the opponents. A provincial Minister Saeeda Malik did not let Ms. Almani to stay at her hospital as she was pro to the group of Chief Minister. Similarly, the Chief Minister himself hardly took interest in the case; he has just recently advised (21.01.04) the police department to induct her in Sind police, however she has not received any appointment letter according to the newspaper reports on 24.01.04. Earlier to this case, Sassui Palijo, an MPA of the Sindh Assembly has sent an e-mail message to Ardeshir Cowasjee (reported in his column) in which she has charged that there is no rule of law and even government ministers openly support anti-women laws such as honor killings and the Jirga system. She informed in the email that Sindh's cabinet minister Manzoor Panwhar supported and justified honor killings and the speaker Muzaffar Shah did not let her condemn the minister’s remarks or to raise the point in the House. Altaf Hussain, the Grand leader of Muttida Quami Movement (MQM) and dual nationality holder living in London, did not want to let this opportunity to scale up his political stature. He gave ultimatum of 48 hours to the federal and provincial government to help Ms. Almani otherwise he would snatch his political support. He staged the gimmick at the time when the episode was in its final stage. It is surprising that Governor of Sind Dr. Israt-ul-Abad who belongs to his own party had not taken interest in the case or made any public support to Ms. Almani including offer of financial support of Rs. 200, 000 until his grand leader staged the drama.

The ordeals of Ms. Almani and Mr. Mahar might have abated a bit but scars of the event will remain in their lives and the society. It is unfortunate, whenever an incident like this takes place, human rights activists appear and public departments are moved on ad-hoc basis but nothing changes at macro level. Analyzing objectively the case, it appears that efforts were made to fulfill vested interests and not for improving human rights’ conditions in the country. The case has not developed the political and social will that is required to curb such injustices in the society. The law of state has failed and the law of clan (or jungle) succeeded. There is still no assurance that the similar tragic incident will not occur in future or a channel is created to handle swiftly such cases.

Later Development: The court in its latest decision has allowed Shaista Almani and Balakh Sher Mahar to live as husband and wife. Mr. Mahar told the court that he did not give divorce. After couple of  months of the verdict, Almani and Mahar tribes had a fight in which many people died and injured.

Tuesday January 05, 2010
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