AKHUN BABA: When 16-year-old Tahira was murdered in a horrific acid attack last year, her poverty-stricken parents got no justice. Officials slammed the door in their faces and the police refused to listen.
The prime suspect – Tahira’s abusive husband – lived in freedom until the case was taken up by Pakistan’s first female Jirga set up to win justice for women in the face of immense discrimination.
When the Taliban controlled Swat valley from 2007-09, girls were barred from going to school, their classrooms were burnt and women prevented from leaving the house without a male relative.
Government writ was restored in 2009, but like much of the northwest, ancient mores and conservatism too often make women second-class citizens whose needs are subservient to those of men.
Each time Tahira’s mother, Jan Bano, climbs the steep hillside to her daughter’s grave and down again, she feels dizzy and weak.
She has high blood pressure and diabetes, and the stress of failing to get justice makes her condition worse.
Tahira was married off at 12. In villages and tribal communities it is still common for girls from poor families to be given to husbands at puberty. But her mother says she became concerned when her son-in-law, Subha Khan, allegedly started to beat and torture her daughter.
It was he who poured acid on her and dumped her in a room to die, her mother alleges.
Tahira’s face was destroyed. So was her upper body. She screamed in agony for 14 days before she passed away, Bano said.
But when they went to the police, officers did nothing.
When her eldest son approached government officials to complain, Khan and his father threatened him with dire consequences.
Then they were sent a message by the local Jirga, advising them to marry one of their sons to one of Khan’s sisters by way of recompense for Tahira.
Bano refused to do so and was still fuming when she heard that a group of female activists had set up a women’s-only Jirga in Saidu Sharif, the twin town of Mingora, the largest city in Swat.
“We’re fed up with male-only jirgas which decide only in favour of men and sacrifice women for their own mistakes,” said Tabbassum Adnan, 35, head of the 25-member jirga.
“We simply can’t leave women at the mercy of the male Jirgas,” she told AFP at the Jirga’s small office.
Tabbassum Adnan raised Bano’s case and organised protests demanding legal action against Tahira’s husband in connection with her murder.
Her efforts persuaded police to register a case against Khan but he has since gone on the run. Tabbassum Adnan has provided Bano with a lawyer to fight her daughter’s case.