A 6-14 year old minor girl could be an‘object’used for dispute settlement between two parties. No matter how absurd it may sound, this practice, known as “Swara” (http://bit.ly/1PWTLKm), is prevalent in some parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan, mostly in tribal belts. This is a 400 year-old tradition based on principle of “blood for blood” for dispute settlement where virgin girls are forcibly married off. If not all, at least one woman had the courage the fight it out in her community in Swat valley. Tabassum Adnan, a lady from Swat valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan was awarded with the Nelson Mandela–Graca Machel innovation award 2016 in Bogota, Columbia in April 2016 during the International Civil Society week held by CIVICUS for her valiant work on violence against women in her community.
“Our fear is our biggest obstacle and cause of our failure. If you get one success, you get motivated. The biggest achievement will be to shed fear and demand our rights.” Said Tabassum. Her journey to fight for the cause of women started with a case of acid attack by a man on a girl, who eventually succumbed to the injury. Tabassum and other women approached the Jirga, the traditional body of elders for dispute settlement, asking justice for this girl. It resulted in nothing. “So we decided to start our own Jirga – Khwendo Jirga(Sisters’ council), consisting only women in 2011.” Said Tabassum.
In the particular case of Swara in the community, where Tabassum lives, a married man had kidnapped the wife of another man. In the dispute settlement, the first man was asked to give his 7 year old daughter Fatima (Name changed) to the other man for ever, who could use her as his property. Aggrieved and helpless, the mother of the Fatima approached Tabassum for help. The women brigade of Khwendo Jirga rescued the minor girl from the captivity defying the order of the men Jirga. “We forcefully took the girl out of the custody of that man. Several men there opposed us, but we did not relent.” Said an assertive Tabassum. Thus started her fight for the helpless women in her area. “Khwendo Jirga” is the Centre of hope for several vulnerable and languished women. We have dealt with girls’ trafficking cases, have given shelter of women having five-six children deserted by family and husband etc” added Tabassum. Tabassum, 38 is a victim of child marriage and of an abusive husband. She decided to walk out of the marriage after 20 years and started working for justice for women.
The men’s brigade reacted. She was issued with Fatwa(order made under Islamic Law) by the traditional Jirga in 2011-12, which was eventually withdrawn. Appreciation for her work started pouring in even within her community. She was made the member of the district dispute settlement committee. She got international acclamations with ‘Best human right defenders’ award’given by government of Netherland in 2014 and ‘International Women of Courage award’ conferred by US state department in 2015.
Apart from dispute settlement, issues relating access of women to the decision-making bodies and justice for women, Tabassum’s group has worked for education of girl child, heath of women, and advocated against child marriage.
The work of Smriti Nagpal, 26 from New Delhi, India also is similarly inspiring for which she was conferred with the Nelson Mandela –Graca Machel innovation award 2016. Smriti has stared an initiative, Atulyakala (Unparalleled art forms) in 2012 to give a platform for marketing the art and crafts by the people with speech and hearing impairment. “Once, a guy with speech impairment having a masters degree, who was doing manual job in a NGO, approached me asking where his paintings could be sold. I had no answers. I was just a graduate then. But it did give me an idea.”
Smriti has two siblings having hearing and speech impairments. Her best way to communicate with them was through her hands. Shetherefore knows the use of sign language, which helps her to communicate with people with similar impairments. She has been a sign language interpreter in National Association of Deaf and interpreted republic day parade in national TV.
“The kind of paintings and crafts by the people with hearing and speech impairment are just immaculate. Therefore, I thought why not to start an institution with help of all fascinating artists. This is a way of taking them away from a stigmatized life, and to live a life of dignity,” narrates Smriti.
Atulyakala markets online the products like like mugs, wallets, journals etc designed by the person with hearing and speech impairments with their signatures on all products. This gives them the identity and confidence. Apart from social enterprising, Atulyakala also conducts awareness programme in universities about the Indian sign language and inclusion of such people. India is the place for highest numbers of population of 18 million with speech impairment in the world.
She was chosen as the 100 most inspiring women by BBC in 2015.As many as 200 people with such impairments have been benifitted from Atulyakala.It has centers in the country and a center in Denmark. Atulyakala plans to replicate it’scenter and training model in different cities.
In the message for the young generation, Smritisays “I am a dream, and I’ve believed dreams shape your life. Whatever you are passionate about, work on it. Your small effort can bring changes in many lives.”
The author is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi. He can be reached through e mail: firstname.lastname@example.org