Jirga violence and punitive justice

Published: December 7, 2017
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The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore. She has a profound interest in local and global politics, English Literature and Psychology

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore. She has a profound interest in local and global politics, English Literature and Psychology

Pakistan manifests its failure to clamp down on the resort to ferocity as a means of retributive justice, conveniently practised under the banner of Jirga system. The recent murder of a young couple on the orders of a Jirga in Karachi for contracting a marriage of their choice is proof. Considered a parallel system of justice, the Jirgas not only engage in a brutal negation of the human-right values enshrined in the Constitution but also by virtue of their draconian edicts make life a pandemonium for individuals. Despite the fact that the Jirga system was outlawed by the Sindh High Court in 2004, till date it runs wide across the country.

Jirgas assume a problematic posturing on several fronts. Claiming to provide speedy justice to individuals, the dynamics of Jirga operation manifest a repugnant reality, where justice is not only denied but ferociously condemned for individuals who trespass the prescribed repressive social code of conduct that primarily converges on the problematic expression of freewill of individuals.

Additionally, the potential notion of women seeking justice from a Jirga usually sounds a death knell for the victim. The fact that women are not sanctioned as a Jirga’s members, witnesses or complainants, instead can only access it through male relatives, manifests the misogynistic bearing of this system. Thus, it does not come as a surprise that Pakistan has been declared the fourth-worst country for women by the Georgetown Institute of Women Peace and Security.

The victims of Jirga violence are pushed to the periphery, where they exist in a liminal space, categorically marking their subservience to this vehement system. Lacking the ability to pronounce their disagreement over the Jirga’s edicts for fear of further reprisal, it is high time that robust measures were taken to give voice to the victims and to deal with this issue at the earliest.

For this, the government needs to realise the exigency of curbing the Jirga system at the earliest. Instead of manifesting its obliviousness to the grating reality of Jirgas by attempting to give legal cover to them under the Alternate Dispute Resolution Bill, it is time that the policymakers realised that coercive measures are mandated to provide justice. This goal cannot be attained if national leaders continue being active participants in Jirga proceedings and deliberations. A case in point is that of Baloch senator Israrullah Zehri who defended the grotesque killing of five innocent girls, who were tragically shot and buried even before they were pronounced dead, all because this act was seen to be in consonance with the Jirga’s edict.

Secondly, it must be realised that deterrence serves as half the cure for grave social ills. Justice becomes a farfetched dream when offenders come to be conveniently released on bail enjoying the backing of a political bigwig. This simply undermines the attempt of addressing lawlessness in society, and serves as a bait for potential criminals.

Moreover, in clamping down on Jirga violence, the local media can play a significant role in condemning the Jirga justice in favour of formal judicial process. Local newspapers do disseminate news of ‘honour killings’ every now and then, but it is the rural target audience that needs to be informed of their fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution, particularly Article 25 that sheds light upon concerns of gender equality, women’s empowerment and the Principles of Policy that protect the institution of marriage, unit of family and relation of child, something that Jirga system edicts are inconsistent with.

It is high time that concerted efforts were rendered to cure this malaise or else it would not be long before there would be another loss of an innocent life, unfathomably killed because of the exercise of her right to exert autonomy, and hence to live.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 7th, 2017.

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