Breaking the shackles of social divide and injustice
17 May 2018
As we turned on to the North-Western channel, we drove past the busy road which ran parallel to a fast-flowing river and rounded up towards the hairpin bends of the valley. The path seemed oddly familiar, yet the valley—spurring an all but contagious atmosphere of peace and warmth—was practically unrecognisable. It had been eight years since I had last visited Swat District, situated in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The change since then was indisputable.
Long known for its majestic mountains and the turbulent river running upstream, Swat valley had for years attracted a countless number of tourists. The residents of Swat had maintained their centuries-old values and traditions which stem from the region’s principles of peace, harmony and equity.
For the past decade and a half, Swat’s residents had been surrounded by insecurity, which was further exacerbated by poverty. Until recently, the area had been deprived of the most basic services. Lack of trust and access to fundamental rights amongst people was apparent even to a visitor, who had not yet seen the exact state of deprivation.
Years later today, the atmosphere of fear had been converted into one of hope. The residents felt more secure, and many families who had fled their homes looking for peace and shelter were now returning to Swat. Justice and security sectors were strengthening, and the rule of law was being established throughout the district. With over 41 police stations converted into model police stations, featuring gender-responsive policing and improved service delivery, and with over 2500 personnel including 460 women police officers trained in efficient and people friendly service delivery, the future of Swat seemed more secure than one could have imagined a few years ago.
The journey towards creating a secure environment for the residents of Swat had not been as unchallenging as it may seem at the outset. Many police officers, especially, women police officers, had to face several obstacles on their way to making justice accessible to the residents. One such example is that of Lady Constable Safia who devoted all her time to serving the people of Swat. Safia had a heart-warming story to tell. Recounting her struggle, she revealed the utmost effort it had taken for her to challenge familial and societal norms which nearly drove her away from achieving her goals, yet, she remained resolute. Even after being shot with six bullets in an encounter, Safia stayed true to her mission to help the women of Swat live their lives freely and support their well-being.
Standing next to her two-year-old son— napping comfortably at the daycare located in proximity to the regional training centre, whom she brought with her while she received training— Safia looked out the window towards the training grounds where both men and women were undergoing training. With a sense of pride reflecting in her voice, she spoke about the improving peace and justice situation in the district.
I went on to speak to more women police officers at the training center. Each woman had her powerful account to share. Their stories made me realise the amount of persistence and determination it had taken for these women to bring back good fortune to the city.
As I saw Safia and fifty other women police officers stand alongside almost a hundred young policemen at the RTC in Swat, where less than a decade ago it would not have been considered safe for women to step outside their homes, I remembered what Safia had blissfully said to me earlier in her dormitory, “If you are determined to achieve something, success is destined however big the challenge may be.”