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A cleric in Utmankhel Arang, Bajaur has decided to “announce” that women should be banned from shopping in markets and bazaars—but it appears he was misled by a bit of photoshopping.

The “decision” was announced after namaz at the mosque in Khar Bazaar, where Pesh Imam Ihsanul Haq spoke to the worshippers. Women would not be allowed to shop and if they were caught in the bazaar their brothers or husbands would be fined Rs20,000.

“We are not challenging the government,” he said at the meeting, according to a video. “But this is our tradition.”

He said that he wanted to tell the Assistant Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner that this was against the Shariat and culture of the area.

“Do you all agree to this,” he asked the participants of the meeting. They endorsed it.

He appeared to have taken his cue from a doctored notice that was circulating on social media. And as clerics go, he felt the need to endorse a ban in principle. The doctored or photoshopped notice written in Urdu said:

Bajaur Aurang notice: Women are prohibited from the bazaar. This does not apply to the elderly and children. If a shopkeeper sells anything to any woman who has come unaccompanied by a male relative, he will be fined Rs20,000 and his shop will be sealed.

It was signed by Masharan, Falahi Committee Girgiri (which is in Dir, not Bajaur) with Aurang Tawheedabad (which is in Bajaur) added on in what is clearly a bit of photoshopping.

The original notice for a small area in Dir.
The original notice for a small area in Dir.

It appears that the pesh imam has fallen victim to a bit of social media mischief.

This was never the case in Bajaur historically. Interestingly, elders from the area have denied that this was the case. They said that there was a notice that was doing the rounds on social media but for a small area in Dir called Girgiri. This notice was doctored to add Aurang and it was planted. However, they said, Imam Mufti Ihsan-ul-Haq went with that information and announced it in Khar. He issued an edict based on a notice issued for an entirely different place.

The same notice with the Arang area added.
The same notice with the Arang area added.

Something similar happened in Mamond, a tehsil in Bajaur, earlier on (incorrectly mentioned as Mohmand in an earlier edit of this story). It was said that women were being banned from making calls to an FM radio station but it later emerged that there was some conspiracy behind it. The FM Radio North belonged to Akhunzada Chatan who someone wanted to damage politically.

It has been the case that it was frowned upon in Bajaur for women to go out and about. However, after the military operations ended and the temporarily displaced people started to return, things changed. In fact, women did leave their homes so they could collect their stipends from the government (such as for the BISP or Ahsaas program and student scholarships). Then a jirga was held to decide against the women from leaving the house to receive these cash handouts. The men did not like the women receiving money and leaned on tradition in an attempt to restrict this. However, the district administration pushed back and the men fell silent. They were unhappy about the state of affairs nevertheless.