PAKISTAN: Many Swat Women Share Misery

Monday, October 29, 2012
Southern Asia
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

Several of them are regular visitors to Peshawar High Court where their respective cases have long been pending.

They usually book a van in Swat to reach Peshawar and once in the provincial capital, they stay together for hearing into their cases.

With cases fixed at different serial numbers, these women normally wait at a special enclosure for women in the crush hall outside courtrooms. On their way to Peshawar and while waiting for their turn at the high court, they exchange with each other their stories, which are mostly filled with sorrows. They are often expressing agony through which they have been passing.

Most of them belong to poor social background. They are always accompanied by small children who remain mostly oblivious of what is happening in the courtroom.

During previous hearing of cases of ‘enforced disappearances' on Oct 23, these women were mostly dejected because of no noteworthy progress in their cases. The court fixed Nov 29 for next hearing.

Following the court proceedings, they were seen inquiring from each other about the progress in their cases. However, all of them had the same reply to offer as the representatives of the federal and provincial governments and the intelligence agencies were reluctant to concede that these persons were ever taken away by them.

“My husband was picked up along with his brother by the security forces from a camp for displaced persons in Peshawar and was shifted to Swat,” said Izzat Begum.

Hailing from Aligrama area of Swat, she said just like other inhabitants of the area they had left their residence and taken shelter at a school turned into centre for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

She said when her husband, Iqbal Hussain and his brother Hazrat Hussain were taken away they visited the concerned Chamkani police station, but they could not be traced.

Later, she said they came to know that the detainees were shifted to Circuit House Swat where security forces were stationed and since then they had been missing.

The wife of Hazrat Hussain, Ms Seema, who was also accompanying Izzat Begum, said they had been passing through hard times as they had no proper source of income.

From the same IDP centre three of their other relatives were also picked up by the law enforcing agencies. They are identified as Shah Zarin, Jehanzeb and Sardar Hussain and their respective wives Ms Shaheen, Ms Kahlida and Ms Shazia have now been pursuing habeas corpus petitions filed by them. They said they had also participated in several demonstrations held for missing persons in Islamabad and Peshawar, but to no avail.

Another female accompanying them is Ms Gulshan, whose husband Hafiz Mohammad Gulshan, was also taken away from Nowshera district in 2009. Ms Gulshan said her husband was a prayer leader as well as medical technician and was running his own laboratory. They belong to Bara Bandae village.

The stories of all these women are almost identical. “All of us are facing the same problems mostly because of poverty,” said Ms Sajida, whose husband Rasool Khan was a daily wage labourer and was arrested in 2009.

She said earlier a commission of missing persons had announced that stipends would be fixed for the families of missing persons, but so far nothing had happened.

“These women are now just like a family. As I am fully aware of their miseries and therefore, I regularly rent out my vehicle to them for their visit to the court,” said Habib Khan, owner of a passenger van. He said they trusted him and preferred to hire his services.

Lawyers, who plead these cases at the Darul Qaza (circuit bench) at Swat, said even there dozens of women had filed habeas corpus petitions challenging the alleged illegal detentions of their male family members including their sons and husbands.

“Presently, I am dealing with at least 35 habeas corpus petitions mostly filed by women. Keeping in view the plight of these families I have been conducting most of these cases gratis,” said lawyer Arif Jan, who is a known face in the cases of missing persons.

Until a few years ago, female members of the family were mostly reluctant to either come to the court or to file petitions themselves.

The habeas corpus petitions were mostly filed by male family members. However, now the trend has changed and women have become regular visitors to PHC, in Peshawar as well as at Darul Qaza in Swat.