By Cake Staff:
News of an awful practice of woman-snatching has surfaced in Pakistan, as activist Veero Kohli fights to recover young girls and women who were kidnapped as ‘debt.’
Kohli, who is currently pursuing the kidnapping of a teenage girl named Jeevti, is herself a survivor of this long-standing practice, which is the product of two exploitative systems – bonded labour and patriarchy.
Pakistan’s Child Marriage Restraint Act 1929 prohibits women from being married before the age of 16, but when Jeevti was kidnapped by Hamid Brohi and made to marry him, she was only around 14-years-old. Child marriage is particularly prevalent in the Sindh region, but Jeevti’s story is marked by the breaking of multiple other laws, enslavement, and coercion. When Kohli managed to track down the girl, an affidavit had been taken, stating that she had not been kidnapped, but left of her own volition, and chosen the marriage herself. Here we see the feminist tenet of “choice” being manipulated to suit patriarchal ends, and done in a way that it is virtually unquestionable in our legal system.
Bonded labour is not just an echo from South Asia’s feudal, pre-colonial past. It is a reality in several pockets even today. The poorest families working for rich landowners in Pakistan(many of them without documents or bank accounts) fall into a debt-trap that affects subsequent generations as well. While some families offer up their daughters as ‘payment,’ others like Jeevti are forcibly taken away. In both cases, the daughter is reduced to nothing more than movable property.
Contemporary and urban feminist discourse has identified the many ways in which women are treated as property – for example, the objectification of women’s bodies in our media, men catcalling women on the street, symbolic rituals like ‘giving away the bride’ at weddings, or vowing to ‘protect sisters’ on Rakshabandhan. But if all of these are worrisome, then it should be a massive concern that Jeevti was transacted as a 100,000 rupee purchase.
The issue of violence against women in Pakistan came to the fore earlier this year when model Qandeel Baloch was strangled by her brother in what has been termed an honour killing. The incident underscored how South Asian society sees women only as family property, not as full human beings. Acid attacks which affect 750 Pakistani women annually, are another example of this.
The abduction of women, from the time of Partition of India and Pakistan right up till now, has sustained the same idea that women are property. If, in all this time, there have been any dents in this system, it is due to women like Kohli. And one only hopes that society at large eventually shoulders this responsibility, to stop more Jeevtis from happening.