PESHAWAR:A single act of courage can save the world. In the case of one man in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, his efforts seven years ago to protect his daughter from a vile local custom have saved dozens of girls from enduring the same fate.
That man was Nawaz Afridi, who challenged the custom of ‘ghag’ after his nephews Alam* and Aslam* laid a claim of marriage upon his daughters Nabila* and Shakila*.
In practice, ‘ghag’ is a custom where a person forcibly demands the hand of a woman without her consent or even that of her parents.
Most reported incidents of ghag shared starkly similar narratives – a person would simply go out in public, often after firing a gun into the air, and make an announcement that nobody can marry the girl, while also threatening the girl’s family and any prospective suitors. Women and parents often risked their lives if they objected to ‘ghag’ proclamations.
And that is where Nawaz Afridi came in. Nawaz was under severe pressure because he did not want his nephews to marry his daughters, and at the same time, a local jirga had fined him for ‘humiliating’ his nephews by defying ghag.
Afridi had vowed to protect his daughters, but he couldn’t do it alone, so he knocked on the doors of the Peshawar High Court (PHC), seeking justice not only for his daughters but for thousands of others who had been forced into marriages without their consent. It was here that he got a rude surprise – ghag was legal.
Following the petition filed by Afridi in 2012, the court served the federal government a notice to reply as to whether legislating criminal law fell under the federal government’s jurisdiction. The matter was intensely discussed and the provincial government was compelled to act, quickly passing a law that made ghag a criminal offence.
“No one shall demand the hand of a woman in marriage by way of ghag,” the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Elimination of Custom of Ghag Act, 2013 reads, adding that whoever violates it shall be punishable with imprisonment of at least three years and up to seven years, and also a fine of up to Rs500,000.
Although cases are still occasionally reported from different areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), the numbers have dropped sharply after the Peshawar High Court (PHC) took notice of the issue and asked the K-P government to come up with legislation to end the practice.
Most recently, in March, a case surfaced in Karak District after Najma*, a student, filed a case with the local police accusing Inam* of allegedly making a Ghag proclamation. In February 2018, the police sought assistance from the then-political administration of Bajaur Agency in order to arrest two accused persons in a ghag case, where one Naeem* made a ghag proclamation against a two-year-old girl.