Bartering women: Apex court declares ‘jirgas’ unconstitutional

Published: March 28, 2012

Seeks report on alleged exchange of girls approved in presence of minister.

ISLAMABAD: 

The Supreme Court took suo motu notice of the recent rape of a woman in Sheikhupura. Hearing cases on Tuesday regarding ‘jirgas’ that permit giving women to settle disputes, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry asked inspector general police (IGP) Punjab to arrest the culprits and submit a report on the incident within three days.

The court heard identical petitions filed by Samar Minallah and National Commission on the Status of Women (NCSW) Chairperson Anis Haroon against vani and swara customs exercised through jirgas and punchayats to settle disputes.

Accepting the stance of petitioners, SC termed holding of jirgas against the Constitution. Justice Chaudhry also asked the petitioners to submit details of such incidents in the next hearing on April 12 and also sought a report on a jirga held in Sindh which ordered five girls to be given as compensation to settle a murder dispute between two tribes. The decision of the jirga was taken in presence of Federal Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Mir Hazar Khan Bijarani.

In 2007, a five-member bench of the apex court headed by Justice Chaudhry had ordered immediate arrest of Bijarani and 10 others allegedly involved in offering five minor girls as compensation in a murder case and another case in 2006 that accused Bijarani of being party to a sang chatti incident. The chief justice asked Sindh Advocate General for details of the case to be submitted and whether progress was made to implement court orders. While ordering strict action against organisers of such jirgas in accordance with article 10 (3) a, the chief secretaries and IGPs of all four provinces were asked to submit reports of such gatherings, action taken by the police, registered FIRs, arrests, punishments and acquittals, challans and pending cases.

The apex court expressed concern over lack of convictions in cases of acid crimes and the recent rape incident in Shiekhupura. The CJ gave detailed directions of establishing committees at district level so that complainants can have access at district bar level.

In another case, District Police Officer Zubair Dreshak from Mianwali submitted a report on two vani victims from Wan Bhachran, Naheed and Khatoon. They are currently residing with their parents. The court was assured that not only has the jirga decision been annulled but that the girls will be provided protection. Consequently, the case was disposed of.

Since 2004, after the SC took up the issue of swara, vani, sang chatti and irjaai, more than 60 girls from different parts of Pakistan were saved from paying the price of someone else’s crime, the CJ observed.

Minallah informed the apex court that in a recent hearing the CJ of the PHC had directed the provincial and federal government to make a specific law for such tribal decisions, She also informed the court about cases where parents defied jirga decisions and thus faced severe consequences.  For instance,in December in Gujranwala a woman was shot and killed by her son for refusing to allow her 12-year-old daughter to be handed over as vani.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2012.

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