Kohistan jirga: The dirty picture

Published: June 9, 2012

Young girls were put to death after a local jirga declared that their act was highly immoral. DESIGN: S. JAMAL

Yes, a picture is worth a thousand words and we all witnessed it when the Swat flogging video was released. Watching an innocent (and unidentified) woman so ruthlessly beaten by a masked Taliban made every Pakistani restless.

This is not surprising given that our women are our ghairat (honour) and nobody has the right to mistreat them. News channels kept running the story over and over; cyber citizens gave it more value by posting it on blogs and all social networking websites; liberal and traditional scholars both heavily condemned the incident.

Then, one fine morning, we came to know that it was a fake video. Since then, there is a big question mark on the authenticity of the incident.

But we humans tend to forget very soon. The other day, every TV channel was airing the video of a wedding ceremony where two young men were dancing and four women were singing and clapping. The news was that these young girls were put to death after a local jirga declared that singing and dancing at a wedding ceremony was a highly immoral act.

The matter is now in the court of law, under the chief justice of Pakistan, who has taken suo moto notice of the incident and ordered that the girls should be produced if they are alive. Whatever be the outcome of the case, my concern lies with the reporting standard again being set by our news media.

Our so-called media intellectuals are deliberately ignoring many questions that still remain answered and it would be hasty to draw conclusions before these mysteries are unveiled.

  1. No TV channel has shown the full video; the full video, which is five minutes and fifty-two seconds, has been edited by TV channels and only part of it is being aired repeatedly. Anyone who watches the full video can see that the wedding ceremony is not established anywhere. It is filmed in a small room with six characters (four girls and two boys). Where are the celebrations? No decorations in the house? No flowers, nothing? And on top of it all, no baraatis?
  2.  How were the girls related to those boys? And why were they together in a room?
  3.  Keeping in view the norms of the society and the restrictions, weren’t they aware of the consequences?
  4. Why was the activity being recorded in the first place?
  5. How did the video reach the jirga? It can’t just fly out of the video-makers phone to someone else’s phone without consent.
  6. By transferring the video, didn’t the boy put his own life and the life of the other five at risk?
  7. What was the actual case presented in the jirga? Was it only clapping and dancing, or was it some other issue?
  8. Due to lack of education, the Kohistanis are prone to extremism and cultural exclusiveness. They have their own definition of ghairat, which might not be in accordance to our values and has nothing to do with religion.
  9. Another aspect is the way of life of people in such areas. There is a general culture of revenge, which sometimes results in murder of whole families. Again, why is this aspect being ignored by the media?

It seems absurd, as to how our most popular news channels and show anchors beat about the bush without realising that journalism’s first obligation is to the truth (read: assemble facts and verify them). At least, this is what we are taught in journalism schools.


Ovais Ahmed Mangalwala

A producer for Express News.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Shuweikh Haqqani

    The media and the secular liberal “human rights activists” will extensively use this to defame Islam..
    We should keep in mind that this is a case of extremism, which is directly fuelled by illiteracyRecommend

  • Axee

    it seems that u have seen the whole video but u have not given any links related to that video.Recommend

  • Sane

    It is all due to ‘Breaking News’ syndrome. More breaking news more viewership. More money.Recommend

  • haroon ali

    Very good article. We need to establish these facts before judging anything or anyone. Recommend

  • saladin

    U have arose many good questions. Owing to the extremist culture of Kohistan it is not permissible for a girl to attend such kind of gatherings. They Jirga might have established the relationships and come to the conclusion that along with clapping and dancing, fornication may also have happened and the least penalty for this crime is death in this area (although in Islam you can’t give death penalty unless there are four witnesses present). There is something fishy about the video and girls. Recommend

  • narayana murthy

    Question no 10.

    Why was this meaningless blog written?Recommend

  • http://www.ghkothari.com G H Kothari

    There are many things shown on TV is actually just to gain attention and get more TRP we all know the fact but still our media is showing this all.

    We all are just shut-up. Recommend

  • Mo/CA

    You present the case that since this wasn’t a wedding therefore as per local customs it was okay to kill them( not debating whether they were or not)!

    I think people do not realize the value of life, whether it be the illiterate people of the jirga, you, and many countless others. It’s time that we realize what life is and take it seriously….

    Personally I believe that if it’s not affecting you then it shouldn’t be a matter of concern for you… See, Nd off you don’t like then move on…

    There is a story in the bible or Christian traditions that says that Jesus claimed to have stopped stoning of a woman by saying that only those who have not sinned to throw the first stone. I think this ideology is also depicted in Islam very well… If we read the Quran anywhere there is a punishment mentioned, the Quran then says that Allah is most forgiving and he forgives….
    Let’s try to adapt these principles of peace and love…Recommend

  • Tin Tin

    When/where was it definitively ascertained that the flogging video was a fake? Alvi’s is an opinion piece, not a report.

    Questioning the nature of media reportage, holding the media accountable for the information they disseminate, is an important task. But you simply do not do it the right way. Here you seem to be trying to question the authenticity of the video that was circulated, but the questions you ask end up signalling other, graver issues.

    “Keping in view the norms of the society and the restrictions, weren’t they aware of the consequences?”
    This implies that these girls were to blame for their own deaths, since they must have consciously flouted the rules. This is not a point on which one can afford a forked-tongue: either you clearly state that these young women were directly responsible for what happened to them, or you clearly state that they were not. Questioning their knowledge of the norms of their own culture is a low, crude way of insinuating the former.
    ” How were the girls related to those boys? And why were they together in a room?”
    How does it matter? These are not questions ANYONE has the right to ask- except, perhaps, their parents.
    “Another aspect is the way of life of people in such areas. There is a general culture of revenge, which sometimes results in murder of whole families. Again, why is this aspect being ignored by the media?”
    Contextualising the incident would be a good idea, but again, I dislike how this seems to imply that the “general culture of revenge” mitigates the singular tragedy of this particular incident.
    “What was the actual case presented in the jirga? Was it only clapping and dancing, or was it some other issue?”
    What other issue would have justified the killing of these girls? If the issue was fornication, say, would that undermine the horribleness of this incident? Regardless of the “real” cause, the killing of these girls was an inexcusable, terrible, terrible incident- and this needs to be underscored, not undermined.

  • Mj

    ” How were the girls related to those boys? And why were they together in a room?”

    What is the relevance of this question and what difference does it make to you? Recommend

  • Musthaq Ahmed

    And Jesus was an Arab and so are we !Recommend

  • abhi

    it is not clear how can you be so sure that the flogging video was fake. The link i the blog also doesn’t claim any such thing.
    It is like repeating same lie 100 times will make it true?Recommend

  • ishtiaq_uk

    ‘No smoke without fire’….this article should be condemning these issues highlighted by the media, rather than condoning them under the guise of criticising the media! It is rather sad.Recommend

  • http://www.ovaismangalwala.info Ovais Ahmed Mangalwala
  • http://www.ovaismangalwala.info Ovais Ahmed Mangalwala

    @Mo/CA: I am not supporting the killing of the girls. You are absolutely right about the Islamic principal. I am sorry if you got the wrong impression that I am in favor of the killing. And my article does not concern the battle between Islam and culture. It is about journalistic responsibilities.Recommend

  • http://www.ovaismangalwala.info Ovais Ahmed Mangalwala

    @Tin Tin: Basic investigative journalism requires all these questions to be answered. And I am not saying that the girls are responsible. The basic argument is that if you are aware of the strictness such issues in your society, you should not take such risks. It is simple logic my dear. Suppose if your boss doesn’t like late-comers, then you should try not to reach late. Otherwise there is a high probability that you might face the consequences.Recommend

  • http://www.ovaismangalwala.info Ovais Ahmed Mangalwala

    @Mj: Basic investigative journalism my friend.Recommend

  • alicia

    First and foremost about the Swat flogging video. After the video was released the TTP spokesman Muslim Khan came on the media and said that they had been flogging women who they “suspected” of lose morals. And guess what was the icing on the cake? The fact that the flogging was done by boys aged 10-12 years. It was the most appalling and disturbing news video about the taliban that I ever watched in my life. Young boys who should have books and toys in their hands were carrying whips for lashing at women the taliban “suspected” of immorality.

    Secondly I find this blog quite appalling to tell the truth. Maybe if you did some research you could have found out that the video was forged. Those girls went to a segregated wedding where some boys made their video clapping and singing. The boys then made a video of themselves dancing and put the two videos together. And soon after they ran away from the area leaving the women to their fate. If you actually bother to see the video it is apparent that it’s fake. Also the wedding did take place the jirga itself said that. This point answers most of your queries.

    I know a few very educated doctors and engineers from tribal areas who support Vani and honor killings as a part of their culture.

    And I think we should thank this news for bringing out the other injustices that kohistani women face. The government should do everything in its power to change that area. What they do is barbarism not culture. Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop

    Weddings in India are a huge deal. It is a major part of Indian culture. Singing and dancing are inalienable part of India’s culture and that extends to its wedding too.

    Pakistan has inherited this Hindu cultural trait and I am not surprised if this annoys a few Mullahs.

    Gender segregation is practiced in Islamic countries and even though I don’t agree with it one bit, and deem it unscientific and unnatural, Pakistan will purge itself of this Hindu influence.

    I have my friend’s wedding in a few days, it will be too much fun. Too bad the Pakistanis want to be as un-Indian and as Islamic as possible since the two nation theory says so.

    As for the guys in Pakistan, learn to use proxy servers to access whatever you want in the virtual world.Recommend

  • Mlh

    Wedding or no wedding, its about four girls sitting on the floor, singing and clapping and a guy dancing…that’s all there is to it! i know i’m deviating from the point you’re trying to make here…but seriously…why would anybody even give this a thought? Recommend

  • sajid

    Okay so I watched the video and you would not believe what I saw… 5 women two of whom at least were trying to cover their faces with a dupatta are sitting at the ground and clapping.
    YES they are CLAPPING
    . (You could also tell the video is completely forged and put together.)

    For god’s sake if that is fornication then god save us all. The lives of 5 human beings 3 of whom are also mothers was put at risk by some stupid boys over a silly tribal rivalry?? And if the honour of those tribes is so flimsy that mere clapping will shake it then I don’t know which activity won’t.

    @the author I did watch the whole video and this is all there is to it. Those boys along with the jirga members and the molvi who insulted Islam by issuing a ridiculous Fatwa should be arrested and punished instead of petty analysis of the video. This is the most outrageous news I have read in my entire life. Recommend

  • http://www.ovaismangalwala.info Ovais Ahmed Mangalwala

    @alicia: Didn’t you see what our tv channels did with the video? Besides making a breaking news out of it, every channel conducted hour long talk shows on the video/subject. My question is why didn’t they bother to see whether the video was fake or not? Is this how responsible journalism works?Recommend

  • http://www.ovaismangalwala.info Ovais Ahmed Mangalwala

    @ishtiaq_uk: As any sane person, I condemn the issue. But please try to understand that my article is not about the issue. It is about journalism rules and ethics.Recommend

  • AK

    @Anoop: You need to understand that subcontinent has always been a mix of very different cultures. Pashtoon culture is very different from mainstream Indian/Pak culture… and it would’ve remained different even if 2-nation theory or Pakistan had not been created. There is frankly no such thing as one Pakistani culture, so no point in criticizing it either…. weddings in Karachi might not be as great a party as in your friend’s wedding but they are way more liberal than what happens in Kohistan.Recommend

  • http://peddarowdy.wordpress.com/ Anoop


    I do understand it is a mix of different cultural traits, that why I feel two nation theory got it wrong.

    I do not want the Hindu influence to go away, what I am saying is it will. Just like Basant was gone, kite flying is banned, same way bits and pieces of Hindustan will be stripped off. So many things have already been stripped off. Give it time.Recommend

  • faraz

    @Ovais Ahmed Mangalwala

    When Chief spokesperson of TTP Swat, Muslim Khan says that the flogging video is genuine, then what other proof is needed?Recommend

  • Ameer

    @Musthaq Ahmed:
    Jesus was also a JEW.Recommend

  • Nobody

    @narayana murthy:
    Question #11:

    Why’d you read it in its entirety and then proceed to comment? Recommend

  • tanya

    Ovais, I completely agree with your views. Especially:
    Another aspect is the way of life of people in such areas. There is a general culture of revenge, which sometimes results in murder of whole families. Again, why is this aspect being ignored by the media?

    Their customs are not new. Kohistan is a part of Pakistan. We are well aware of tribal customs. We have not done anything to change the way of life there. We have not set up schools, engaged in trade or commerce sitting in Karachi with them over there. It’s not like we “didn’t know” that they have these customs. So then, why are we freaking out about it now?
    Suddenly we all want to protect “these women” and, by the way, make it even more difficult to live in their hometown (if they are alive) by showing their video to the entire world?

    Also, I’ll second you on:
    “Didn’t they know the consequences of such behavior?” (And I am not condoning their killing or supposed killing. Recommend

  • http://www.ovaismangalwala.info Ovais Ahmed Mangalwala

    Dear All,

    Where is the issue now? Vanished somewhere in the air? What is media doing?Recommend

  • vaqas

    @Ovais Ahmed Mangalwala:
    Certainly. Its all just aboutt ratings. As soon as something looses its appeal so does it loose its airtime. I cant actually recall anything being covered to its conclusion in our media. Except maybe the reinstatement of the chief justice issue. Which ofcourse the media funded and supported hand in hand with political parties and other vested interests. But generally our media is just a farce and sham that we should all be ashamed of.Recommend