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By N Yousufzai | Pashtun Women Viewpoint (VP)

It took me more than five years to gather the broken thoughts and heart to plunge into the ocean of courage and write about a taboo and a tragic topic that has been on my mind for so long. We add to the miseries of our society by keeping silent on certain issues and we refuse to acknowledge them just because it might challenge the traditional standards of morality our society has set for itself. The changes in the attitude don’t come abruptly;  human physiology takes centuries to adopt new morals but eventually, it does. - Keeping that in mind, telling the story of Zari (not her real name) might prove to be  throwing the first stone in  stagnant waters.

Zari was the oldest of five sisters. When she was born, being the first child of the family, Zari was welcomed by everyone in the Pashtun family almost all of the likes of which normally desire a baby boy. There has always been a preference for having sons by the Pashtuns like other South-Central Asian people for a variety of social and economic reasons. For the next eight years, her mother gave birth to the rest of the five girls in the family. Zari`s father was not among those who complained all the time about not having a son. He rather decided to disguise his older daughter, Zari, as a boy. In the coming years, she lived and acted like a boy.

Zari’s father lost his life to throat cancer and now she had to run her small business in her house in order to survive. She started developing the feelings of responsibility of helping her father with the family matters even when he was alive. She was only eighteen when her father passed away.

Zari would ask her mother to grant her permission and leave for Karachi- a metropolitan city with a bigger market for cheaper and contemporary readymade cloths so that she could buy the material that she needed for her shop. Zari’s mother didn’t interfere much in her business because Zari was treated like a man earning for the family while enjoying the status of a son in the Pashtun family. The business that flourished with Zari’s hard-work and support proved to be quite helpful for the six members to have a decent life.  Zari was able to complete her graduation and after that she started helping her sisters to pay for their schools. The business was going quite well; more than forty families came to her as regular customers.

Zari was a prominent girl in her small town and this prominence was because of the notoriety that she held with her name. Zari’s love affair with another girl was a gossip of the town. Rokhana was Zari’s good friend and had similar feelings for her.

The concept of same-sex love relationship was not acknowledged in the town and so the neighbours started gossiping and questioning their relationship. A Few women would try and directly speak with Zari’s mother to investigate ‘what was wrong’ with Zari. But her mother refused to talk to her daughter about the matter believing they were just good friends.

Zari used to bike in that small town. It was no more a surprise for people of the town seeing the two girls go together but for the outsiders and visitors from other areas, it was something they had never seen in their villages. 

I met Zari in 2005, when she was introduced through a mutual friend in the University of Peshawar along with her partner and one of her sisters. Zari wanted her sister to take admission in the University. Her sister Rozina later became a good friend of mine. As she was the older sister and responsible for paying the fees and for expenses of Rozina, Zari used to visit her to keep an eye on how she did in her studies at the university.

In March 2007, I heard the shocking news from a mutual friend that Rozina’s sister Zari got killed. I couldn’t wait to talk to Rozina about it to convey my condolences. Rozina called me herself after a few days and told me the story of Zari’s murder: “Zari was kidnapped, kept for two weeks; we received a call from a person who said Zari will be killed according to Sharia law for her ‘crimes’. We were frightened, hopeless and helpless. On the 13thday of her kidnapping, her dead body was found by a local resident of the town and she was buried in an unknown graveyard”.

>The family still does not know who killed her but believe she was murdered for the choices she made in her life i.e. dressing like a man, working outside her house, supporting her family economically and most importantly, for having a love affair with another girl. Her friends and family including her mother, sisters and Rokhana, who was married to a boy later, could not help but cry over the loss of Zari’s life.

Neither was Zari’s murder reported by the media nor did the family and her friends have the courage to seek justice that could not be obtained in any case keeping in mind that the judicial system and law enforcement agencies are comprised of the same people that believe in standards of ethics and morals, all of which go against the choices Zari made in her life and the likes of her might make in future. These centuries old standards have remained unabated in contradiction to the changing times and modern civilizations just because nobody in our society has the courage to speak up and challenge them. Silence was the best option for all instead of choosing to seek justice, as it is in almost all such cases of brutal murders in our society.

Article first published by Pashtun Women Viewpoint (FP) website

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