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Ill-fated sisters aged two and nine declared wani

By Owais Jafri

Panjayat in rural Punjab decides the girls will be forced into marriage.

ROJHAN: Rasheed and Nasreen fell in love, got married and ran away. So far, this tale from the rural Punjabi district of Rajanpur is common, both in Pakistani life and soap operas.

It becomes a sick genre of its own with what happened next. Nasreen’s family were unhappy with the arrangement and went to a panjayat (local village assembly) for justice. The panjayat decreed that Rashid’s two sisters must be given over to Nasreen’s family as watta satta (exchange marriage).

Rashid’s sisters are Jameela, aged nine, and Aneela, aged two. They were thus declared wani (forced child brides). Thankfully, the police moved into action swiftly – arresting three members of the panjayat. Worryingly, however, Rashid’s family are under intense pressure from the local community to withdraw their FIR.

According to Ameer Bhatti, Nasreen’s father, the girl’s family was always opposed to Rashid marrying his daughter. Regardless, the couple got engaged and eventually got married in a court before running away to Sindh in fear for their lives.

Rashid’s father said the couple had received death threats. Indeed, there have also reportedly been outbreaks of violence, including firing from Nasreen’s family on Rashid’s family home.

After the couple fled, Rashid’s family made it clear that they opposed the tradition of watta satta and would not give their girls to Nasreen’s brothers.

The panjayat decided on Wednesday that Rashid’s two sisters were wani, prompting the police to arrest the three main members of the panjayat. Qalandar Baksh, Ahmed Baksh and Haji Muhabbat have been arrested by the police.

Ten others have been named in the FIR filed by Rashid’s father.

SHO Ijaz Sindhu told The Express Tribune that the police had been providing protection to Rashid’s family. Rashid’s father, Abdul Kareem, was still fearful: “We want protection. I have been given threats from the family of the girl and residents of the area to take back my application against the panjayat.”

Abdul Kareem and Rashid’s other relatives have appealed to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and the IG Punjab for further protection.

The Express Tribune

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