Tribal conflicts in Sindh continue to have devasting effects on women, seminar told

Right activists decry feudal system, Jirgas that continue to stoke tribal tensions in northern Sindh

Photo: SZABIST facebook page

As women lack education and financial autonomy in underprivileged areas of Sindh, they often face more financial and psychological stress in case of tribal conflicts.

This was stated by speakers at a seminar titled ‘Tribal Conflicts and Impact on Women’ organised by the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) in collaboration with Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (Szabist).

The event was moderated by Kausar S Khan, a member of the WAF’s four-member delegation that visited Sukkur, Kashmore and Ghotki districts to gain a deeper understanding of the underlying factors contributing to tribal conflicts and their impact on women.

The fact-finding mission was initiated after the tragic murder of Prof Ajmal Sawand, who was targeted by Sundarani tribesmen in Kandhkot in April.

Starting off the discussion, Kausar said tribal conflicts were the bane of our society and there could be no progress if such conflicts existed. “These conflicts represent a historical and social reality that we must confront and ultimately put an end to,” she emphasised.

Author Attiya Dawood pointed out that women bore a direct brunt of tribal conflicts. The murder of Prof Ajmal Sawand had deeply shaken the entire of Sindh, after which the WAF undertook the visit to three northern districts of the province and engaged with locals, civil society members, journalists and social workers as well as individuals who had either witnessed or had been victims of tribal conflicts, she said.

“We met grieving family members of Ajmal Sawand, including his brother, wife and children, which made us aware of the lasting impact a tribal conflict have on the lives of women and children,” explained Attiya. “Beyond the sorrow caused by the loss of a loved one, women and children grapple with the problem of stress and psychological trauma.”

Uzma Noorani, a WAF member and co-chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, said the loss of father, brother or husband in tribal conflicts turned women’s world upside down. “They find themselves grappling with different circumstances, suffering not only socially but economically as well,” she added. “During times of conflict, the closure of schools and restricted access to health facilities tension in the area takes significant toll on them.”

She highlighted that minor triggers escalated into major conflicts, often stemming from patriarchal ego. While women tended not to react, it was always the reaction of men that led to conflicts, she opined, lamenting that Jirgas that were held to settle conflicts were usually male dominated and led by a male feudal lord and the party found guilty of murder was made to pay compensation in the form of girls.

She said Sawand, being a scholar, wanted to drive societal change through education but became himself a victim of tribal conflict. “This was the first time that such a highly educated person became a casualty of conflict. His pregnant wife went into shock after hearing of her husband’s murder and lost her baby one-and-a-half month later. This unborn life also became a casualty of it. The anguish she is enduring is shared by many other women in similar situations.”

Anita Pinjani highlighted that during the visit, they learned the distressing fact that 80 murders had occurred due to the conflict between Sawand and Sundarani tribes. “The accounts we heard were truly disturbing. An individual shared a heart-wrenching story: His sister had been married to her cousin. After the death of her husband, his family decided she should marry her brother-in-law to retain the property she inherited within family. She was murdered in the name of honour and her body was discreetly disposed of when she and her brother resisted.”

Addressing the seminar virtually, SSP Dr Farukh Raza underscored the crucial role of sensitising the police to the issue. “Police operate under intense pressure in a highly challenging situation,” he explained and lamented the lack of resources at the disposal of the police force to effectively deal with tribal conflicts.

The officer, however, said efforts were being made to equip and allocate more resources to the police force.

Acknowledging the prevalent negative perception of the police, he stressed that substantial change and improvement could be achieved through enhancing their image and transforming their behaviour.

Rights activist Anis Haroon said such issues were prevalent in countries where there was a law and order crisis and unequal treatment of people under the law. Feudalism was the root cause of all ills plaguing the country, she added.

“In our country, the absence of land reforms has exacerbated the problem. There is a different situation in India where land reforms have been enacted. While violence against women persists there too, but they have a more effective redress mechanism and increased awareness,” she said, adding that the police were not also free from influence as police officers were appointed on instructions of MNAs and MPAs.

Journalist Riaz Sohail said the mainstream media did not report tribal conflicts the way regional media did. Often a conflict between two individuals or two families was erroneously depicted as a conflict between two tribes, which placed individuals from these tribes, who were not involved either directly or indirectly, under threat, he added.

Despite a ban on the Jirgas, they were taking place in northern Sindh and being endorsed by political parties, including both the ruling and opposition parties, he lamented. Szabist President Shahnaz Wazir Ali, academic Riaz Sheikh and SSP Shehla Qureshi also spoke at the event.

Published at The News on 11th August 2023

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