‘Panchayat raj’ and a woman stoned

Published: July 21, 2012
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‘Panchayat raj’ in Punjab runs parallel to the weakening of state outreach in the face of growing power of the non-state actors nurtured by the state in the past. PHOTO: AFP

‘Panchayat raj’ in Punjab runs parallel to the weakening of state outreach in the face of growing power of the non-state actors nurtured by the state in the past. PHOTO: AFP

The Supreme Court has taken suo-motu notice of another horrendous panchayat crime in Punjab and found that the police were inclined to ignore the criminality of the local so-called council of elders, which was dictated by a local strongman. The case is related to the stoning to death of a woman at Chak 15 in Kacha Khu, Khanewal.

The report goes like this: Maryam Bibi, 25, mother of five, was cutting grass in the fields of a local landlord who forced her to submit to his sexual advances. When she refused, the landlord levelled allegations against the woman and took the matter to a local panchayat, which ordered that the woman be stoned to death. The order was carried out in her home. Her husband was abducted but later recovered.

What the Supreme Court discovered was an effort on the part of the Punjab police to let the panchayat off the hook. The Court censured the Punjab government and said that the Khadim-e-Aala (chief minister) should take immediate notice of it (which he has since done). The Court observed that “The police knew about the incident but did nothing” and rejected the police report that did not mention the role of the panchayat. The Punjab advocate general tried to lessen the shock of the incident by saying that the panchayat had been called “to resolve the matter and not to punish the woman”.

The strange fact that emerged in front of the honourable Court was that the police recovered the woman’s abducted husband the moment the Court moved in the matter, while it had previously dithered for three days without any action. What the Court has laid bare is the shrinking writ of the state even in the traditionally  ‘well-governed’ areas of the country. Local vigilante-terrorists have virtually taken over the country in vast tracts of Pakistan, while the Taliban threaten the big cities with suicide bombings and bank robberies.

The stoning to death of Maryam will shake the world just as an earlier case in Punjab did a decade ago in the case of Mukhtaran Mai whom the local panchayat had ordered to be gang-raped. In August 2002, the anti-terrorism court (ATC) found the six defendants guilty of several offences under the Hudood Ordinance and the Pakistan Penal Code. These included rape and aiding and abetting a rape. They were sentenced to life imprisonment, a fine, six months of rigorous imprisonment, the death penalty and 30 lashes — the last two were subject to confirmation by the high court. (There were eight other defendants who were part of the panchayat that ordered the rape of Mukhtaran Mai and were charged with unlawful assembly. All eight were acquitted by the ATC.)

The Mukhtaran Mai case was mishandled by the Pervez Musharraf government, above all by General (retd) Musharraf himself who said that women bring such matters to the court in order to vie for visas to foreign countries. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of the satanic panchayat in 2005. However, this time the Court is determined to get to the root of the matter and go into the phenomenon of the dwindling writ of the executive in Punjab, which is considered better governed than Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa where some MNAs brazenly defend panchayat transgressions against the law.

Panchayat raj’ in Punjab runs parallel to the weakening of state outreach in the face of growing power of the non-state actors nurtured by the state in the past. Made to look like an ascendancy of Islamic sharia, the vigilantism of the clergy linked to the Taliban and al Qaeda has subordinated the local executive, which stays away from the scene of the crime till it has made sure that it will not offend the local religious leadership. Seeing this dereliction, the local feudal strongman has increased his tyranny by strengthening the old panchayat system as an abetting institution. Lahore has to reassert its authority in the outlying mufassil areas while it copes with the rising number of bank robberies in the big cities that are reportedly funding the terrorist groups that Pakistan is avoiding to confront.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 22nd, 2012.

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Reader Comments (29)

  • T R Khan
    Jul 21, 2012 - 11:23PM

    Stoning to death is un-Islamic, their is nothing in the Quran to support it. It is a Jewish practice.

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  • Amjad
    Jul 22, 2012 - 12:15AM

    It’s good that such acts of cruelty are exposed and that the perpetrators will be brought to justice. Hats off to the CM to make sure these criminals are punished.

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  • s shah
    Jul 22, 2012 - 12:41AM

    Sickening and shameful. Shame on the Punjab government! I am not a fan of the CJ but good for him for bringing this shameful murder to light, otherwise it would have been swept under the carpet with all the other atrocities. Recommend

  • gp65
    Jul 22, 2012 - 3:32AM

    The writ of Pakistani government is shrinking. Unless immediate and sustained efforts are made to take a U-turn on the intolerance which has been fanned for the last 60+ years, the country will consume itself. And no- I do not think it was just Zia who started this intolerance. The anti-Hindu riots in 1950 which made Mandal go back to India, the 1953 anti-Ahmadi riots, the massacre and rape of Bengalis – all predate Zia.

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  • saeed
    Jul 22, 2012 - 5:38AM

    This is a dream of every Pakistani weak the federal government and democratic system . And bring the panchayat and jirga system . This is just the start.

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  • jagjit sidhoo
    Jul 22, 2012 - 6:10AM

    A woman stoned to death for refusing the sexual advances of the landlord. What is this world coming to.

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  • Feroz
    Jul 22, 2012 - 8:03AM

    Such decisions cannot be given legal sanctity whether delivered by the panchayat or any other local government body. The writ of law must be strictly enforced.

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  • Arian
    Jul 22, 2012 - 10:20AM

    I am waiting for Kaalchakra’s brilliant insight on the nexus between feudal landlords, the Panchayat system, sex, bank robberies and the collective civilizing effect of all this on Afghanistan.

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  • Toticalling
    Jul 22, 2012 - 11:26AM

    @T R Khan: Defending Islam is one thing but blaming another faith is incorrect. I am surprised that ET has published your comment. I have not heard one single case in recent history where any jew or Jewish state ordered stoning.
    These practices take place in pakistan and a couple of other Muslim countries only. Societies which do not treat women with respect and equal rights, are doomed to be failures. Just look around the world and you will come to the same conclusion.

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  • Awans
    Jul 22, 2012 - 11:26AM

    My friends are from Khanewal and they told me it is absolutely untrue and no Stoning took place by any Panchaiat in that region. It was a domestic dispute and nothing else. According to locals Husband strangled his wife and then threw bricks at her but Some NGO’s who are searching like Wild Hogs any new news of Stoning and Rape to get funding from West are transforming this news into a Stone throwing incident. After Mukhtaran Mai NGO’s have a hard time in searching for the real victim and these stories are propping up here.

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  • Pan Mat
    Jul 22, 2012 - 1:49PM

    @Awans:

    Clearly another episode of Yahoodi’s conspiracy to defang Pak nuclear assets….wait….. it does not make sense…..my point exactly!

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  • S Khan
    Jul 22, 2012 - 2:48PM

    This article is irrelevant now , irresponsible journalism

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  • ishtiaq_uk
    Jul 22, 2012 - 3:25PM

    I don’t know much about this panchayat system, but it is clearly in place to benefit the Pakistani men. I suspect there is NO involvment of women in this panchayat other than panishing them?! Wake up Pakistan….please. (POK)

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  • LIAQAT ALI
    Jul 22, 2012 - 5:33PM

    ET must follow up and tell us what really happened.Gross things do happen in pakistan but NGO’s and media are not innocent either all the just sensationalisim itself.,I am not giving my opnion one way ior another.I have seen enough dirt on both sides.

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  • Aghaji
    Jul 22, 2012 - 6:02PM

    Ironically, Jews do not stone women, we Muslims still allow this barbaric and despicable practice despite what the Qur’an says. No civilized society would tolerate this act of barbarism. Your comment is typical in attributing the ills of your own society to to others— Jews, Indians or Americans. It is sad that that the country of Jinnah, Iqbal, Faiz, Dr. Abdussalam, Jalib, Mehdi Hassan, Abida Perween and many others — is regressing to 13th century tribal practices. We have not learnt anything since Mukhtaran Mai and many other innocent rape victims and the victims do acid assaults.

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  • jagjit sidhoo
    Jul 22, 2012 - 6:20PM

    @Aghaji: Could not agree with you more . To that list of great Pakistanis i would like to add ADBUL SATTAR EDHI and my favorite Hassan Nissar

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  • Amjad
    Jul 22, 2012 - 6:32PM

    @Arian: The difference in Pakistan compared to Afghanistan is that such isolated acts of alleged crime are discussed and action is taken to apprehend the criminals – even if the wheels of justice are slow. People are revolted by such acts in Pakistan whereas such behaviour is no big deal in Afghanistan. We don’t even know for sure if this event took place since there is a lot of exaggeration in Pakistan media like what happened in Kohistan to women. It was found to be false later on. But one thing is sure, if this report is true, the criminals will be punished- this is the difference and why you can say Pakistan still has a civilizing effect compared to other Muslim countries where things aren’t even discussed.

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  • Waiting
    Jul 22, 2012 - 6:35PM

    Amazingly, a news item in the same paper says the woman was killed by her husband and that the ‘stoning’ never happened!

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  • Afzal A. Neseem
    Jul 22, 2012 - 8:51PM

    What do the self styled religious leaders have to say about this despicable crime?Why are the politicians of all colours and hues so quiet?

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  • Aghaji
    Jul 22, 2012 - 9:12PM

    @T R Khan:
    It is ridiculous to declare that stoning is a Jewish practice. There is no known case of a jewish woman being stoned in contemporary history. Pakistanis typically attribute the ills of their own society to foreigners – often Jews, Indians and American are convenient scapegoats. It is high time that such barbarism is stopped.. I wonder what the pious Maulanas, Maulvis, Muftis, Allamas and ulamaa have to say about it. And what they are ready to do to prevent innocent women being brutally murdered in Pakistani villages. This time it happened not very far from the cultural capital of Punjab and perhaps not too far from the HQ of jamaat-Ud-dawaa. Have we learnt nothing from since Mukhtaran Mai’s tragic gang rape ordered by a Panchayat. Recommend

  • Awans
    Jul 22, 2012 - 9:15PM

    @Pan Mat: I know this region very well and my news Is Authentic. No Panchayat can ever do that. Tell me a Single example in Punjab where Women are stoned in the last 50 years???. This is the news made by NGOs and this news will die out quickly as it is a complete lie.

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  • Muhammad Ishaq
    Jul 22, 2012 - 9:58PM

    This is brutal and this is done in the name of Islam. We condemn it.Punjab has become center of vigilante-terrorism.

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  • AHMED SHERAZI Saleem
    Jul 22, 2012 - 10:00PM

    What is Panchayat? These are the seniors of a village unfortunately they are illiterate and even do not know what is Quran and Sunna? How can they punish a man or woman according to Islamic Sharia? This is the responsibility of the Council of Islamic Ideology to submit a draft note to the government of Pakistan to ban such kind of groups practicing the death penalty contrary to law.

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  • Mirza
    Jul 22, 2012 - 11:21PM

    @gp65:
    I agree with you 100%. I am not surprised at all, disgusted yes, surprised no. In fact I am surprised that some are surprised. We are fast moving in the wrong direction and the focus is on petty egos like contempt, Memo not who is protecting and supporting the fanatic terrorists? Who is killing women, children, minorities, smaller sect and peaceful citizens?

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  • LIAQAT ALI
    Jul 23, 2012 - 12:30AM

    @jagjit sidhoo:
    Hassan Nisar? To take his name in the same breath is just insane or naive to the extreme. He can easily say; look how white is this paper , didnt I tell you that it is black? I nauseate each time I listen to him even for a minute.Recommend

  • jagjit sidhoo
    Jul 23, 2012 - 7:25AM

    @LIAQAT ALI: What Hassan Nissar says is the truth which is always a bitter pill. By the way just to make it more palatable i accept that the ills that he talks about are very much there in India also ,be they poverty, illiteracy ,corruption , nepotism , intolerance , distorting our history and most important an unwillingness to accept what our present position is. He is rather BLUNT in what he says , probably out of frustration with the gap between what could have been and the present situation, but he is always TRUTHFUL . He is just a mirror if you do not like what you see do not blame the mirror.
    .

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  • Arian
    Jul 23, 2012 - 7:41AM

    @Amjad
    The force of denial is strong within you. You are a typical Pakistani who blindly professes his loyalty without questioning and without a moral compass.

    I am glad you believe in your country and how due process of law and habeas corpus is followed to a T. What world do you live in, my deluded friend?

    There is no law in your country, lawlessness is the law of the land, at least the Afghans have a legitimate excuse, which is 30 years of turmoil and political upheaval.

    Pakistan inherited a sophisticated colonial penal system but it is reverting to medieval practices. The ironic thing is that India inherited the same system and look how they turned out.

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  • Zalim Singh
    Jul 23, 2012 - 1:34PM

    barbarians

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  • Hussain
    Jul 23, 2012 - 10:58PM

    Medieval Practices are the main weapon which Maulanas, Muftis, Mulavies are using in Pakistan for their every day living. It’s ironic that so far not a single religious political party condemn this act. These Panchyats are nothing but a sword used by these illiterate land lords n corrupt mullas use some what similar tactics for extortion (under the name of religion). Pakistani courts must come forward n ban on all Jirga/ Panchyats nonsense And above all, any police officer who believe in such practices should be thrown out of police force.

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