Lessons from the Kohistan episode

Published: June 25, 2012
The writer is director of the Department of Gender Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad and a rights activist

The writer is director of the Department of Gender Studies at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad and a rights activist

Recent media reports on the alleged killing of five women for clapping at a wedding ceremony in Kohistan invoked a strong reaction from the state, civil society and human rights activists. The shock, rage and anger expressed by people over the incident reveal two things about our society.

One, that despite frequent violations of human rights on a routine basis, the collective conscience of our society is still not dead. The media brought the incident to public notice. Civil society swiftly reacted by protesting and demanding an inquiry into the incident. Political representatives (Bushra Gohar from the ANP in particular) took personal interest in the matter and demanded that the local administration provide information on the incident. The federal government agreed in no time to provide all the logistical support in the shape of helicopters for investigating the matter. The Chief Justice of Pakistan promptly took suo motu notice and sent a fact-finding mission, which included human rights activists and civil society representatives, to the area. We have proven through this collective response that the Pakistani nation qualifies to be in the comity of civilised nations.

However, when it came to translating our emotional response into practically addressing the issue, we all faltered. The inadequacies in the performance of various sections of the state and the society in this case were highly pronounced. For example, the media reported the incident without having any substantive evidence about it. No effort was made to blur the images of the women and men shown in the video, and this may have put their lives at greater risk now. Civil society organisations and human rights activists reacted immediately to the news by staging demonstrations and protests. NGOs and CSOs (civil society organisations) have no institutional mechanism or capacity to verify such news on their own. Hence, their response on even alleged human rights violations is often knee-jerk and also without any systematic follow-up.

As for the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) administration, it appeared highly incompetent and ill-equipped, intellectually as well as practically, to handle the issue. On the order of the Chief Justice, its officials first went to the area to verify the initial report that the women had been killed without taking any female officer along. Although they did not meet even one of the five women, they still reported to the Chief Justice that all of them were alive. Their excuse was that they couldn’t meet the women in person since local tradition and custom did not permit them to meet local women. However, it seems as if this was being used as a pretext to not produce the women before the apex Court.

The first fact-finding mission left in a hurry as the Chief Justice ordered that he wanted the women to be brought before the Court by the evening of the same day. However, for the second one, there was enough time to prepare but no effort was made to include any expert on the area. Civil society representatives and human rights activists, in particular myself, had no prior experience of investigation of such cases (I was asked by the Chief Justice of Pakistan to join the mission). Ideally speaking, the K-P government should have provided assistance to the fact-finding missions and this should have been in the form of experts, interpreters and volunteers who were willing to spend a number of days in the area to find out what exactly had happened. Instead, what we saw was an ostentatious display of ministers and senior officials going in the helicopters though they served no real purpose.

The higher judiciary expressed its own mindset when it accepted the tribal tradition as a legitimate reason for not insisting on producing the women before the Court. One of the judges not only accepted but also justified the tradition of the area where men in the name of respecting local tradition strictly control women’s mobility.

However, despite all the inadequacies at all levels, the best thing is that the strong reaction by the judiciary, politicians, administration, media, human rights activists and CSOs has sent a clear signal to the rest of the country and to Kohistan in particular, that these jirgas are unconstitutional and that decrees of killing people will not be tolerated by the state and society.

Published In The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Muhammad Hassan
    Jun 25, 2012 - 9:31PM

    All I know is that the Chief Justice of Pakistan repeatedly ordered the girls to be presented in the court, but his orders were ignored. If not even 5 girls can be produced in the court on the orders of the Chief Justice himself, then we have no right to call ourselves civilized.


  • Imran Con
    Jun 25, 2012 - 10:11PM

    If you’re going to speak of civilized, it’s not just the reactions that count. Even a murderer will act shocked if questioned about the person he just killed. It’s the results and real action. Not what people think they should be seen doing and saying. You also submitted to the uncivilized and let them make all the real decisions where it counts. Pakistan said a lot. Pakistan always says a lot. It doesn’t mean a thing when the actual outcomes contradict the mindset supposedly represented in those words.


  • Raj - USA
    Jun 25, 2012 - 10:26PM

    **CJ orders the five woman to be produced before him to prove that the missing woman are alive.
    CJ declares that the woman are not missing and are alive as the dead bodies of the five missing woman were not produced before him. Case closed.

    I am not clear if the CJ wanted the five missing woman to be produced before him or their dead bodies to be produced before him? ** Recommend

  • Rahat
    Jun 25, 2012 - 11:07PM

    I think the govenment and supreme court were disturbed not by the incident but by the out spoken media and civil society. When media and so-called NGOs and SCO shut up, the issue is over, no matter what happened with the poor girls.


  • dictator
    Jun 26, 2012 - 2:16AM

    There is no need to criticise the kp govt officials as at the end of the day what they have been saying and emphasing has been proved right and what was told to judiciary and what was blown out of proportion in media, also including the author of this article, has been proved wrong. The problem is not in the local traditions, barring women to meet strangers, and not in the handling of the sensitive issue by govt officials. The problem is with a lack of understanding and appreciation of these traditions by our socalled modern civil society.


  • Mirza
    Jun 26, 2012 - 3:00AM

    Thanks Doc for you efforts. We all know it is a tough task and would take generations.
    Roshan kahin bhar ke imkan hue to hain!
    My best regards,


  • speakthetruth
    Jun 26, 2012 - 4:54AM

    Your actions are selective considering the fact that you term yourself as a human right activists, especially working for the females.

    When an “incident” attracts an international audience especially western media, do you come forward to pick it up. It is too obvious.I’m unimpressed and disappointed because you practice something else and preach something else, In pakistan all speak against the government with big open mouths while most have a double standard themselves!! Ms Bari you need to take a straight line because we are not fools.


  • Its (still) Econonmy Stupid
    Jun 26, 2012 - 7:25AM

    The Code of Civil Procedure Act 1908 (Pakistan) PART XI MISCELLANEOUS
    132.-(1) Women who according to the customs and manners of the country, ought not to be compelled to appear in public shall be exempt from personal appearance in Court.
    (2) Nothing herein contained shall be deemed to exempt such women from arrest in execution of civil process in any case in which the arrest of women is not prohibited by this Code. I think CJP ignored this whereas defender followed this rule.


  • mr. righty rightist
    Jun 26, 2012 - 8:42AM

    @Mohammed Hussain who writes “we have no right to call ourselves civilized”

    Well, the outside world never called you so. It doesn’t matter what you call yourself.


  • Max
    Jun 26, 2012 - 10:22AM

    Dr. Bari: I admire your patience and determination to stand against all odds. Please do not count too much on the state organs. It just does not have any systematic agenda or will to act vigorously and establish the writ of the state. I will be little careful in appreciating their cooperation unless I see the results.


  • kaalchakra
    Jun 26, 2012 - 12:08PM

    What kohistan?


  • Mujhay hay hukm-e Azaan....
    Jun 26, 2012 - 1:17PM

    We have no word to express our hatred for the people who defame their own people for the sake of pleasing west….One will never find them championing the suffering of women in the west…….Princess Dianna or Afia Siddiqui for instance…….one was killed and second is being persecuted

    Shame on such people they are Mir jaffar of this time


  • Parveen
    Jun 26, 2012 - 3:39PM

    I really appreciate Court’s quick action on Kohistan’s issue and media as well.
    Jirga system and acid throwing on women should be strickly ban and implemented to become civilized society.


  • Raw is War
    Jun 26, 2012 - 4:39PM

    Clapping? How vulgar!Recommend

  • UG
    Jun 26, 2012 - 6:25PM

    What about those who are still in Islamabad police custody in this case?


  • Irshad Khan
    Jun 26, 2012 - 9:52PM

    Beside tribal areas with the border of Afghanistan; there are several areas, within provinces, which are also ruled by Jirga system. Worst possible fact is that instead of finishing this system it is spreading into cities like Karachi and you can see boards of such offices. Hathiar hamara zewar hai is an open slogan in rallies and Jalsas. Are we living in 21st century?


  • RS
    Jun 28, 2012 - 4:52AM

    “Hathiar hamara zewar hai” slogan was brought out of darkness of hills into light of late nineteen sixties when SFS force was established by Mr. Bhutto – it functioned in line with Gustapu principal, it’s sworn loyalty was not with State but individual, when it was desmentalled it seems was given different or converted name into present day Jealaas.


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