December 31, 2008
PESHAWAR: Swat women fading into oblivion
By Sadia Qasim Shah
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PESHAWAR, Dec 30: Once an avid listener of Maulana Fazlullah’s FM radio, popularly known among rural women as Radio Maulana, a young woman from Swat doesn’t listen to the radio anymore.
“Usually there is only dreadful news on the radio, so I stopped listening to it,” says 30-year-old Salma, a widow with three sons, who teaches at a primary school.
A major reason among many others for her disenchantment is what she calls slaughter of human beings like chickens by Taliban.
The Swat milieu is full of rumours these days since women have been confined to homes due to Taliban’s strict anti-women policies.
Salma says that she recently heard something which shocked her. Taliban announced that families having grown up unmarried girls should announce it in a mosque so that their hand could be given in marriage, most probably to militants. If they don’t do so the girls would be forcibly married off, it is said.
Salma is of the view that women in Swat are not safe even in their homes and their lives are embittered by chauvinist militants. One thing that disenchants her the most is cutting throats and body parts of human beings over petty things.
Slowly she stopped listening to the radio sermons in the evening which usually ended with threatening directives most of the times for female over issues like education, their freedom of movement and work.
Maulana Fazlullah led militants in Swat now called Tehrik-i-Taliban Swat chapter are reminiscent of Taliban rule in Afghanistan who used to beat burqa-clad women brutally if found outside their homes or without the company of a male family member.
Taliban in Swat have also threatened women of dire punishment if they are found outside their homes without company of a male family member and identity cards. Couples should also carry ‘Nikah Naama’ or marriage certificate along with them when they venture out or they will be in trouble.
“I have heard that Taliban have announced that if a girl above the age of seven is found outside her house she would be slaughtered,” Salma says. She tells this scribe how terrified she was when she recently took risk of going to hospital along with her three children for treatment as she had no male family member.
Sometimes she listens to FM transmission at night (from 7pm to 8pm) not out of devotion but out of curiosity to see what announcements will be made by Taliban.
Recently Taliban’s announcement of banning girls’ education has not only upset Salma and her primary level girl students but also her colleagues – most of them are sole bread-earners of the poor families.
“My colleagues were crying when they heard this bad news. Some have aged handicapped parents while others have lost their male members in the ongoing conflict,” Salma says.
“Our principal has said that all female teachers should write down their domestic problems forcing them to work so that they could be forwarded to Taliban who would be requested to review their policy about women’s education,” Salma says.
Many women unable to go out for work have set up shops, selling cloth, shoes and other female accessories at their homes but it is a risky job even to go out for shopping from these house-based shops, Salma adds.
Husband of one such woman shopkeeper says that he recently faced losses when he bought fashionable black burqas from Peshawar worth Rs100,000. Nobody bought it as Taliban have ordered women in Swat to wear only ‘shuttlecock’ type of burqas.
A local social worker says on condition of anonymity for his safety that more than a dozen women have been shot dead for their involvement in allegedly ‘immoral activities’. Women who go out for work especially social work are tagged as ‘immoral’ and eliminated by the militants controlling the area, he adds.
Bakht Zeba, a 45-year-old woman councillor, who was a staunch supporter of girls’ education was brutally murdered on the morning of Nov 25. Bakht Zeba, who has young sons and married daughters herself, used to collect uniforms and text-books for poor girls and even used to engage herself in other social welfare activities like raising funds for dowry for young girls from poor families.
But all such activities are deemed as ‘immoral activities’ by Taliban controlling the area, say the locals who plead not to be named for their own security.
She was first threatened by Taliban to stop her activities or face dire consequences which she did not pay heed to. They riddled her body with bullets in her house the very next day.