Skip to main content

Vani custom: Traded like animals - the blood feuds settled with 'gift' of a wife

Outlawed custom that parcels out young women in marriage survives in rural Pakistan.
Vani (Urdu: ونی‎) is a cultural custom found in parts of Pakistan wherein young girls are forcibly married as part of punishment for a crime committed by her male relatives.Vani is a form of arranged child marriage, and the result of punishment decided by a council of tribal elders named jirga. The custom became illegal in Pakistan effective 2011; however, the practice continues.Recently the courts in Pakistan have begun taking serious note and action against the continuation of the practice. Vani is sometimes spelled as Wani. It is a Pashto word derived from vanay which means blood. Vani is also known as Sak, Swara and Sangchatti in different regional languages of Pakistan. Some claim Vani can be avoided if the clan of the girl agrees to pay money, called Deet (Urdu: دیت‎).
According to a legend this custom started almost 400 years ago when two northwestern Pakistani Pashtun tribes fought a bloody war against each other. During the war, hundreds were murdered. The Nawab, regional ruler, settled the war by calling a Jirga of elders from both sides. The elders decided that the dispute and crime of men be settled by giving their girls as Qisas, a retaliatory punishment.Ever since then, tribal and rural jirgas have been using young virgin girls from 4 to 14 year old, through child marriages, to settle crimes such as murder by men. This blood for blood tradition is practiced in different states of Pakistan such as Punjab, Sindh, Baluchistan and Sarhad and tribal areas.

Eyes glimmering with worry, Tasleem Bibi peered through the slits of her pitch-black veil. Seventeen years ago her father had struck a devilish deal to stay out of jail. Now his daughter was paying its price. A rival family was demanding that Tasleem marry one of their sons. Her hand in marriage had been promised back in 1989, they insisted, as part of an agreement to end a blood feud between the two clans.
But then Tasleem was five years old. Now, at 22, she was refusing to go through with the wedding. The other family, angered and armed with rifles, had been threatening to kill her. "This is so cruel," she whispered, her hands quivering as she stared out at the farmhouse door. "I committed no crime, so why am I the one being punished?"
She is a victim of vani, an ugly tradition where young Pakistani women are traded between families in resolution of a dispute. Although outlawed two years ago, vani is still prevalent in conservative pockets across Pakistan. Usually it is a matter of murder. The family of an accused murderer promises to give one of their women, sometimes as young as two, in marriage; 10 or 15 years later, after she has reached maturity, the wedding day arrives. It is a mournful, disgrace-tinged event.


These weddings are devoid of the glittering jewellery, three-day banquets and drum music that mark the normal Punjabi celebrations. Instead the woman is delivered to her new husband without ceremony, in ordinary clothes and often as a second or third wife.

"The woman is traded like an animal. Once married, she is little better than a slave," said Khalil ur Rehman, a lawyer and human rights advocate in Mianwali, a wheat-growing district 110 miles south-west of Islamabad where vani is common.

In some cases several women are involved. Tasleem's father, Muhammad Zaman, was accused of killing another man in a bitter land dispute. To keep the case out of court his family agreed to a high price - £3,300 and five women.

Two women have already been married off; now Tasleem and her sister are due to be paired with Mumtaz and Ghulam Akbar, two truck drivers whom she describes as brutish men. Repulsed by the idea, Tasleem has refused, and is supported by her brothers. "This vani should never have been agreed," said Sher Abbas Niazi, 28. "We love her and we are against this custom."

The rival family fired shots at her brothers as they walked through the fields and called on village elders to mediate. Still she refuses to budge. Two of her cousins, Rahmat and Nusrat, have already been married off. She knows her fate if she caves in. "A vani wife is treated like dirt," she said defiantly. "The men wear her like a pair of shoes."

Defenders of the tradition - mostly conservative tribal elders - say this method prevents bloodshed between warring clans. "When we give our daughters it is not for personal amusement but to bring an end to enmity," said Haji Sher Bahadur Khan, an elder in the village, Malmundi.

Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, claims to side with the women. The military leader, who listed "the empowerment of women" as one of his main achievements during a recent visit by the US president, George Bush, passed a law against vani in 2004.

But laws made in Islamabad often have limited influence in rural areas where centuries-old feudalism still holds. Just 15 vani cases have been tried under the new law in Mianwali, said Mr Rehman, which had led only five men to abandon their claims.

The law included many flaws and the police and local authorities were often reluctant to prosecute cases, Mr Rehman said. Politicians such as Imran Khan, the former cricket star who represents Mianwali, appear reluctant to speak out.

There are no reliable figures on the number of vani victims but campaigners estimate there are hundreds of cases. The tradition is part of a wider impunity for crimes against women, such as "honour killing".

Recently a woman and her daughter were shot dead in a central Mianwali bazaar, accused of prostitution. Their killer turned out to be the woman's brother. "He has been jailed but will probably be out within a month," said Abdur Rashid, headteacher at a local boys' school. "In our society the killer becomes a hero."

Domestic violence is widespread but largely hidden. Mr Rashid said he had recently visited a woman who had been chained and beaten by her husband. Doctors counted 22 wounds on her. "I couldn't believe my eyes," he said, shaking his head.

Campaigners say reform of the vani laws and greater commitment from local authorities are crucial for ending the custom. Education is also vital. Only about one-third of all Pakistani women in the country are literate, and the proportion is much lower in rural areas.


Yet some of the women who have had schooling are standing up for themselves. Last month Nusrat Bibi, 20, and her sister Kulsoom Bibi, 21, were due to marry in Daud Khel, 20 miles from Mianwali. But hours before completion of the wedding preparations, which included food and drink for 150 guests, two brothers from another family halted the ceremony claiming the sisters were theirs under an old vani deal.

The sisters were disgusted. The two brothers were known heroin addicts, said the women. But the local mullah sided with the brothers. "We waited until the last prayer [early evening] but still he would not agree," said the younger sister. Undeterred, the sisters have now obtained a fatwa, or religious order, from a more liberal cleric, and are determined to press ahead with the marriages of their choice.[ Islam grants freedom of choice to marry to women]

"Those men are threatening us but we are not afraid," said Nusrat, smiling from behind her veil. "We will not back down. Soon this will be over."


Honour killings, rape, acid assaults, forced marriage and horrific violence are lamentably common in Pakistan despite some reforms. New laws banning some of the cruellest customs are often ignored. Last week Dir district elders, citing "local culture" as a justification, threatened to punish women who reported crimes against them to the police. Most international attention has focused on Mukhtaran Bibi, a gang rape victim who brought a prosecution against her attackers. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, says women's rights are a top priority, but he has also remarked that some women use rape as a "moneymaking concern", or to back their asylum applications.
By Declan Walsh in Malmundi :
  1. Child brides among pashtuns
    "Nowhere does Islam say it is okay to treat women like commodities ... areas where vani and other crimes against women are prevalent remain  ...
  1. Brutal Women Abuses - YouTube

    Ninety per cent cases of violence against womenin Pakistan are not ... 241 women trafficking cases, 374 police torture cases, 50 cases of vaniswara ... a sharp increase in the incidents of crime against women in Pakistan with  ...

           Free eBook: 

Popular posts from this blog

Women in the Western Culture

The women in the western culture have always been oppressed. The women had to launch the movements, to get the rights. There are diverse social movement, largely based in the U.S., seeking equal rights and opportunities for women in their economic activities, personal lives, and politics. Though one can not agree with the all the aspects of the Nazi philosophy, but the one good aspect was that, it advocated the role of women to domestic duties and motherhood. Adolf Hitler set up Organization in 1933, named as Hitler-Jugend (Hitler Youth); for educating and training male youths aged 13–18 in Nazi principles. A parallel organization, the ‘League of German Girls’, trained girls for domestic duties and motherhood. Though women were not totally segregated but this philosophy did not have any negative effect on the economy, rather positively contributed in the social sector. The famous saying. “give me good mothers, I shall give you strong nation ” stands validated again. 
Household is a ful…

Qur’an and Women: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Women’s Perspective by Amina Wadud

Fourteen centuries of Islamic thought have produced a legacy of interpretive readings of the Qu'ran written almost entirely by men. Now, with Qu'ran and Woman, Amina Wadud provides a first interpretive reading by a woman, a reading which validates the female voice in the Qu'ran and brings it out of the shadows. Muslim progressives have long argued that it is not the religion but patriarchal interpretation and implementation of the Qu'ran that have kept women oppressed. For many, the way to reform is the reexamination and reinterpretation of religious texts.
Qu'ran and Woman contributes a gender inclusive reading to one of the most fundamental disciplines in Islamic thought, Qu'ranic exegesis. Wadud breaks down specific texts and key words which have been used to limit women's public and private role, even to justify violence toward Muslim women, revealing that their original meaning and context defy such interpretations. What her analysis clarifies is the la…

The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir - Classic Book Summary

Simone de Beauvoir, the French existentialist and feminist philosopher, wrote, the book:: “The Second Sex”, in 1949 to investigate popular definitions of femininity. She concluded that those definitions had been used to suppress women, through the ages. Simone de Beauvoir at the age of 40, was the author of several well-received novels but "Le Deuxième sex" which became the bestseller from the start, and de Beauvoir found herself the most controversial woman in France. She began to realize that people saw her as Sartre’s inferior merely because she was female. When she sat down to write The Second Sex, she was surprised to find herself putting down the most essential fact of her existence: “I am a woman.” Although she relatively enjoyed privileged position – teaching career, university degree, movement in Parisian intellectual circles – de Beauvoir herself had never felt much of a sense of injustice or inequality.
The Second Sex is not simply about the role of women in histor…