Extending the judicial authority outside the principal cities has always been a problem for Pakistan, forcing the government to relieve some of its desires to appease its citizens. Yet, civilization has always required a social justice system in addition to a legal one. One such orthodox system prevalent across Pakistan is the formation of a jirga. You might have seen news of horrific incidents taking place in places whose names you have never even heard of, all under the jurisdiction of its upstanding jirga.

Many of you might not even be aware of this term, “jirga”. A jirga is an all male tribal council consisting of the most ‘ honourable’ men from the village who sit together to ‘solve’ problems when they occur. Starting out as an institution to preserve justice and morals within the village, the solutions imposed by these jirgas eventually became more authoritative and based on establishing equilibrium. The influence of these jirgas is to such an extent that it would not be wrong to state these hubs of misogynist practices as the leading factor encroaching upon the human and civic rights of individuals. But what is it about these jirgas that despite this they continue to prevail across Pakistan?

Earlier this year, the jirga system was granted constitutional cover by the National Assembly that passed a bill stating “The system exists in the country for the last several years and we are giving it a legal cover.” Seen as a faster and more efficient way of settling property and marital disputes, the jirga system continues to maintain its popularity over the judicial courts. But is this system as good as it seems?

Despite our justice system being slow, inefficient and riddled with corruption, it has never ruled that women be punished for something they never did. It has never declared that a women should be given in marriage as compensation for any ill crimes her family members may have committed. If the jirga system was so perfect, then why did its ruling lead to Mukhtaran Mai having to suffer the indignity of being gang raped and made to walk naked publically? Then, why is the Vani tradition still being kept alive?

While there are laws that oppose the jirga system in Pakistan, the fact is that they are improperly imposed and women continue to be the subject of brutality and injustice at the hands of these law enforcement agencies. The National Assembly promoting this system and numerous politicians favouring it over the conventional judicial system goes on to show how we have failed as a nation. On one hand we have managed to give a group of uneducated, entitled men the power to dictate what is right and wrong for women to do. While on the other hand we claim that we are properly advocating human rights by treating women equal to their male counterparts. This doesn’t seem hypocritical at all, right?

To proceed even further, the men included in these councils are selected on the basis of pure luck rather than their own merit. Being born into a landlord’s family immediately guarantees you a seat on the local jirga. If this happens to be the case in most areas, it is no surprise that we hear statements such as “The men and the council decided that the same act would be done to the girl. What could we do, in our village disputes are settled like this,” on the news every day. A great majority of the jirgas pass their rulings according to the phenomenon of ‘setting the balance straight’ or ‘getting equal.’

Women are just “collateral” in jirga justice. While injustice against women is particularly highlighted in news regarding jirgas, an important factor about this system is largely ignored: their utter disregard for moral values. Put simply, a jirga comprises of like-minded individuals, who have little exposure and lack knowledge, and no women representation; furthermore, they lack an overseeing body. Consequently, this leads to the belief that the jirgas have the authority to declare whatever they want without being held answerable to anyone. This often leads to decisions being whimsically taken and serving to withstand conflict rather than solving the upstanding issue.

In short, it can be said that no hard line laws exist. Justice is not served, compensation is. The individual does not hold priority; the tribe does...the ones in authority do...

While those who have lived under this system for their entire lives have learned to accept it as their fate, it is detrimental to us as a nation to do the same. We must realise that they too are a part of us, a part of our nation. That is why it is important for those of us who can raise their voice to do so and those who can take action and bring about a change to do their part. It is our duty to ensure the provision of justice.

Not justice for one but justice for all!


The writer is currently a student of A Levels at Aitchison College Lahore.