The religious scholars and ulema have termed forced and swara marriages to be against Sharia. They have asked authorities concerned to ban such practices once and for all. Speaking at a seminar about ‘early and forced marriages’ organized by the Awakening, an organisation working for the women’s rights, and for social and cultural development, these particular ulema deemed it necessary to tell the society that such practices were against Sharia.

These scholars said that swara, or forceful marriage of a girl to resolve conflicts between two rival families was indeed anti-Islamic act. Islam gave freedom to a girl and boy for marriage and ‘the Islamic state was responsible to ensure, food, security, shelter, education, health and even Nikah in a proper way to a person’. Calling it also against Pakhtun traditions- these men are trying to make sure this practice is eradicated as soon as possible.

Even if it was a few scholars in Mingora, this is a monumental step. Religious scholars in our society almost uphold the top most position of authority, where their opinion is an important factor in the eradication of Swara. The common people understand the ulema well. They can easily motivate the communities to shun this vile practice.

An anthropologist and documentarian, Samar Minallah started investigating swara in the early 2000s. In 2003, her documentary Swara — A Bridge Over Troubled Water, profiled victims and their families, where she went into rural regions and spoke with men who had been forced to give a daughter or sister away as compensation for a crime or to settle a family feud. Her work challenged the norms in very traditional areas of Pakistan; she faced intimidation and death threats. And she still does. For her, men play an important part in making sure the practice of swara gets eradicated. Men, too, face hurdles for speaking up and for challenging norms,” she says. “Standing up in the face of society and country expectations, that takes a lot of courage.” In 2004, in response to her documentary, Pakistan officially outlawed swara. No longer can women legally be given as compensation for crimes. The punishment for offenders is three to 10 years in jail.

We can never underestimate the power of law, but it is still too soon to see how it will be implemented. In Pakistan, this is not enough. We need the support of religious scholars, especially men, ones that have almost all the decision-making powers regarding such instances.