Priest, Nun Help Hindu Girl Claim Right To Marry Despite Opposition From Community

2004-04-01 00:00:00

A Catholic priest and nun´s assistance has helped a young tribal Hindu woman marry the Christian man she chose, and maybe saved her life, but it has angered her community.

Naziran, 21, a member of the Bheel tribe in Sindh, Pakistan´s southern province, decided to marry Babar David, an ethnic Punjabi Catholic also in his early twenties. Both are from Padri Jo Goth, a village near Sanghar, 950 kilometers southwest of Islamabad. Priests there told UCA News how the couple´s situation came to involve Church workers.

Naziran´s family did not approve of the match and selected a groom for her from among their tribe. They arranged a betrothal ceremony at their home.

Determined not to marry anyone except Babar, however, Naziran ran away before the planned February ceremony and took shelter in the house of Babar´s father, Joseph David. He sent messengers to her parents to reassure them that their daughter had not been abducted. Companions of Jesus Sister Josephine Gabriel also was informed of the situation.

The young woman would not return home as her family requested, but Sister Gabriel prevailed upon her to spend the night in the St. Clare Convent dispensary. The next morning, the district police officer advised the nun that Naziran should immediately state her intention in court before a judge.

By then, Bheel community members from outside Padri Jo Goth, where only five Bheel families live, had started arriving to stage protests.

"Groups of Bheel women and children started coming to the parish house and the convent, demanding that Naziran be returned," Franciscan Father Ken Viegas told UCA News. Father Viegas is parish priest in Padri Jo Goth, a village of about 300 families set up on land bought by the Catholic Church in 1938.

The couple appeared before a local bench of the Sindh High Court, where the judge advised them that Naziran could be forced to return unless they married. Naziran and Babar married at the Sanghar district court and were sent to Karachi. There an appointment was arranged with Pir Pagaro, a Muslim spiritual leader whose word carries a lot of weight even among people who are not Muslims.

Pir Pagaro had earlier asserted publicly that a young woman has the right to marry the man of their choice. Additionally, the Supreme Court ruled in December that Muslim women are free to marry whom they choose.

Meanwhile, the Bheel campaign intensified.

"In cars and on foot, crowds of them terrorized Padri Jo Goth. They went in hundreds to the office of the nazim (head of local government)," Father Viegas said. At one point the priest was told either to return Naziran to her parents or to have her presented before the nazim.

Through intermediaries, the Bheel assured him no harm would come to Naziran if she returned, but the priest said he felt sure the young woman would be the victim of an "honor killing" to redeem the family´s reputation. Such killings, often carried out by family members, are relatively common in rural Pakistan.

The protests have subsided but not stopped.


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