Failure of justice = power to the misogynistic jirga

Published: May 7, 2011

If I were a murderer I’d love jirgas. In fact, I’d be thrilled at their judgments, at their twisted logic. After all, for any wrongdoing I committed, the retribution would fall not on me but on the women around me.

On May 6, 2011, a jirga in Sindh handed over 12 girls to the victim party to settle a murder case. The youngest of them was five-years-old. How does that even work I’d like to know.  Kafka created a surreal world in which punishment for a crime was disproportionate to the offence. But we live in a reality where retribution is meted out to innocents.

The jirga elder is a respected and generally better-educated man in the village. What led him to conclude that the way to settle the score and maintain the peace of his area he’d have to hand over 12 girls – merely objects, not individuals – to appease the victim party. It’s not the wrongdoer who has to pay the price of his sin, it’s his chattel.

When Ghazala Shaheen’s uncle eloped with a woman of a higher caste, it was she who paid the price in the form of a vendetta rape. It was a jirga that declared Mukhtaran Mai ‘vani’ to settle the score between the Mastois and the Tatla clan to which Mai belonged.

We can lament the mindset that leads to judgments such as these – the mindset that treats women as objects that are easily traded to settle scores. But equally, blame falls on the enlightened. This is a time to take a hard look at ourselves and ask why there is such a chasm between the ideals of the educated urban population and the rest of the country, and what, if anything, have we done to bridge it.

These jirgas are banned by law but ironically, these outlawed systems are the providers of justice and peace to large swathes of people in rural areas. This in itself is one of the biggest indictments of our judicial, legal and police network. The formal legal system is so sluggish and inaccessible that people turn to jirgas simply because it is a system that works. This was one of the biggest appeals of the Taliban – the swift delivery of justice – and is one of the biggest failures of the state. As long as the void in the justice system exists, these barbarous stories will continue to bombard us.


Batool Zehra

A sub-editor on the magazine of The Express Tribune.

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

  • Ali

    I dont even know what to say, totally lost for words. Thanks for bringing this into attention though as we continue to reap the rewards for keeping the illetracy at such high levels in the societyRecommend

  • Nobody

    Disgusting practice… vigilante justice, tribal leaders passing down outrageous rulings being followed by tribal population as the final word,etc… I totally agree with you that part of the blame lies on the shoulders of the enlightened… why has nothing been done to bridge that seemingly growing gap of education? Easier said than done but how long is this going to simply be accepted? Recommend

  • rida

    So you’ve read Kafka – good for you.Recommend

  • Batool Zehra

    @Rida. Nope, just heard about him from other ppl.Recommend

  • parvez

    A serious and absolutely brilliant blog. Your last paragraph says it all and deserves to be put up in lights so that the concerned can read it and digest and hopefully act upon what you are screaming about.

    Whenever I have had the chance to comment I have said that it’s the failure of our law enforcement, legal, judicial system that is primarily responsible for the dire condition we see ourselves in today. Recommend

  • parvez

    @rida: Totally uncalled for.Recommend

  • Khalid Rahim

    @ Batool
    Some of the Elite Mahar sit in the Parliament seats in Islamabad and Karachi. In case they
    read your article, they’ll have merry laugh and remark to the others around, we hope this damsel does not lose her way into our county. Recommend

  • parvez

    I have been keeping a track on this write up as I felt it did not get its due time and was quickly followed by another one. I hope this piece appears in print and also in the Urdu pages in print, because the issue is important and only through persistantce would you be able to make a difference. Recommend

  • waja la messi

    quite true…… But the real question is how are we going to do what she says. Even when the so called judicial / federal police / lawyers work they let the guilty off the hook on a technicality. R davis case for instance.

    This is one of the major reason why people get mixed signals on our seroiusness on the war on terror.Recommend