Journeying through interior Sindh, I stumbled upon large numbers of unmarried, graying women who lived in ancestral homes located in Hyderabad, Thatta, Matiari and Hala. Time hung heavy on their hands. Equipped with little education and no exposure to the outside world, these women had never been exposed to men in their lives.
In 1992, during a journalistic jaunt, I discovered a horrendous custom that kept these women housebound. Under Islamic law, women inherit property when they marry. But in the absence of male relatives, feudals in Sindh refuse to give daughters their inheritance. Instead, big feudals of Sindh and southern Punjab, who derive their power base from the land, prefer to keep their daughters unmarried.
In a more elaborate example of how feudals manipulate women’s lives for ﬁnancial gain, the Syed communities – who trace direct ancestry to Prophet Mohammed – have their daughters married off to the Muslim holy book, the Quran. That literally seals their prospects of marriage. Under this practice – called “haq bakshna” (waiver of rights), women place their hand on the Quran and waive the Islamic right to marry and inherit property. Even more ingeniously, they are told that their virginity gives them a spiritual status and a duty to dispense talismans to sick children.
The paradoxes were stunning. Feudal politicians took orders from a woman prime minister, Benazir Bhutto even as they kept
their own women locked up or “married to the Quran.” Some of them were superiors in her party and took orders from the woman prime minister to wield power in their own ﬁefdoms. The big feudals, who form the backbone of autocratic governments, have kept their control of women well-hidden from public view.
(Uploaded by Aftab Gul Abbasi)