No Pakistani citizen should be subjected to the justice of jirgas and panchayats. However, in a number of cases, instances of human rights’ abuses have come to surface. Most of the times instead of delivering justice, another human being, mostly a woman, becomes a victim of the wrong judgment made by a panchayat or jirga. One recent example is the unfortunate event in Raja Ram that happened last month. In the said case, a council of village elders ordered the rape of the 16-year-old victim after her brother was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl.

Although the state took action and arrests were made, there are certain issues the case has highlighted, that need our attention. In a report published in The Nation, the picture of council members arrested does not show tribal “elders”, unless the elders are a group of very young men. To suggest that rag-tag councils of semi-educated men can deliver justice, and give them the status that judges in Pakistan have is a gross violation of all norms of law and order. This is mob justice, pure and simple.

The Supreme Court, trying to bring jirgas to heel, declared them illegal in 2006, but our parliament would not have it. The National Assembly in February passed a bill giving legal and constitutional cover to the jirga and panchayat systems to ensure speedy resolution of petty civil matters and reduce the burden of litigations on the courts. Under this law, disputes will be settled with consent of both parties in the dispute. If any woman feels that she is not being given justice, she can move the court. This makes no sense in a society where women are often not allowed mobility, and do not have the means to access courts unless courts are the first instance of where hearings happen. Such laws are naïve and callous.

The system is not just exploited by men in rural areas. Last Thursday, adviser to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister for Transport and Mass Transit Malik Shah Muhammad Khan Wazir, a state official, asked a jirga to demolish MNA Gulalai’s house in case she is proven guilty of wrongly accusing Khan of harassment, as permissible by the tribal laws in the region. It is embarrassing that the Pakistani state can allow such barbaric acts of retribution, that do not exist in any law book in any civilised country in the world, and that men in positions of power can make such dangerous threats to the lives of other citizens and not face any censorship.