Vani: How Age-old Societal Norms Steal the Freedom of Young Girls
Feudalism is centuries old in the land we call Pakistan today. This feudalism is defined by many aspects, one of which is the act of ‘Vani'; Vani includes giving away one or multiple girls of a family in lieu of freedom from the punishment of some crime committed by the men of that family/tribe. In the event of a dispute between two clans, the elders of that particular area call upon a public meeting referred to as the ‘jirga’, during which they aim to settle the issue between the disputing tribes. One possible way to settle any such issue is to ask one of the families to give their female member(s), usually aged between 4-14 years, to the opposite clan as a retaliatory punishment.
The act of Vani involves marrying young girls to older men of the opposing party. In the case where the girls are too young to get married, the agreement is settled, their proposals are accepted, and the wedding day arrives years later as soon as they reach maturity.
According to myself and most of the educated community of Pakistan, Vani is one of the cruelest things that a girl can be subjected to. Since it does not require the happiness or consent of the girl being married off, it results in scenarios of rape and various kinds of torture. When young girls are forced to descend down this brutal ladder, the men they are married to are often more than twice as old the girls. Additionally, money is involved in many cases along with the girls.
As mentioned earlier, this is one of the most brutal acts prevailing in this state. Poor innocent souls are forced to bear the punishment of a transgression that they have not even committed and had no part in.
Why is the issue of girls being married off referred to as a punishment again and again? All parents wish to marry their daughters into good families, and to a good man. In contrast, however, being ‘Vani-ed’ is nothing short of a nightmare, since the girl in question usually goes to her husband’s home as a second or third wife and is forced to live a life of slavery — or perhaps even worse, I would say, given how the husbands use them as dirty rags which are thrown to the corners after their users are satisfied.
And what’s even more disgusting? The fact that the girl’s family, after giving their daughters/sisters away, don’t even look back at the state their girls are being kept in. Their in-laws might be treating them like street dogs, but the family would look away, claiming it’s a personal issue now: “It’s her life and her fate, she should learn to accept it.”
What these people unfortunately fail to understand is that they forced this fate onto an innocent girl. By all accounts, she may have wished for and deserved a fairy-tale wedding like most other girls her age. But her illiterate family snatches away her chance at happiness, and then has the gall to label it as the doing of fate? Pathetic!
The question is — why is this issue still prevalent after all these years, in this day and age? It is because the elders of feudal/tribal areas defend the act of Vani by labeling it as a peaceful way to resolve a dispute — a ‘bloodless’ resolution.
Another factor that stands in the way of diminishing this abominable act is that the girls being victimized are not strong enough; they lack the strength to take a stand for themselves and save their own lives. My heart aches as I say this; they are hardly better than a herd of sheep who love the hand that feeds them every day only to slaughter them when the time comes, who trust their keeper blindly and bow their heads to whatever is decided for them.
Now, let me come to another very important part of this article: to the foreign eye, Vani seems to be a part of our culture, and since culture usually stems from religion, outsiders typically overlook this disgusting act as a religious concession. Therefore, it is important to know what religion actually says on this matter.
Islam is a religion that secures women’s rights more than any other religion of the world. According to Islam, forcing a girl to marry any man is not allowed, and as such, nikkah holds no value. Forcing includes blackmailing a girl emotionally or physically. Islam gives women complete freedom to marry anyone they prefer and ensures that no one can force anything on them.
So where does the concept of Vani come from? It is nothing but the manifestation of some selfish, repulsive minds, and nothing but a way of using women as cleaning wipes to erase the filth created by men.
Now, let us discuss extensively how this social norm affects the life of the victim. Although there are chances that the men these young girls are married to turn out to be gentle and caring, those chances are terribly slim. As mentioned before, these victims often have to face not one, but many different kinds of torture, in which rape and physical abuse top the list. After being exposed to such atrocities at such a young age, they develop a very unstable state of mind.
Furthermore, their chances of attaining an education are slim-to-none. They bear children at such young ages, but how can a mentally disturbed mother nurture and nourish a child? All in all, the consequence is a ruined generation, and an ongoing, never-ending system of cruelty.
Finally, we must also talk about how to stop the slaughter of women in the name of ‘QISSAS’. In my opinion, the best way is to educate the women of our society, to widen their horizons and to strengthen their character. Women should not only be taught the worldly, formal course of education, but also made aware of all the rights that are given to them by the Shariah and the state, on the basis of which they should be encouraged to speak up. They must learn to take a stand for themselves, as this is the most suitable and powerful way to eradicate this disgusting norm that is, sadly, a part of our society.
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