Jirga violence and punitive justice
Conflicts and disagreements generally invite two pronged responses to their settlement: by dialogue and discussion whereby the opposing parties manage to resolve the issue at hand through peaceful means or by violence as a course of asserting control and ascendency of one of the parties over the others, something that always propels a discordant stalemate. A couple of days ago, as the Pakistani nation stood at a screeching halt, with the life of the citizens divested of normalcy and punctuated with chaos and telling’s of anarchy as a result of the Faizabad sit-in episode, the only pertinent concern consuming the political hegemony of the state was to resolve the crisis at hand via plausibly peaceful means, something that materialized in the resignation of the law minister Zahid Hamid.
Seen in this context, a repudiation of violence, on a macrocosmic level, enabled Pakistan to extricate itself from a civil-strife like situation, yet on a microcosmic level, the state yet again manifested its failure to clamp down the resort to ferocity as a means of retributive justice, conveniently practiced under the banner of Jirga system, as indicated by the recent murder of a young couple on the orders of a Jirga in Karachi, for contracting a marriage of their choice. Considered a parallel system to the formal judicial system of Pakistan, the Jirga’s not only engage in a brutal negation of the human right values enshrined in Pakistan’s 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, yet till date runs wide across the country, manifests the conscious disengagement of the government from the ferocious contours of punitive violence practiced under the name of justice.
The Jirga’s 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 do trespass the prescribed repressive social code of conduct that primarily converges on the problematic expression of freewill of individuals, who do want to assert autonomy in decision making.Is not autonomy of individuals a right enshrined in the constitution of the land, and mandated by humanity itself? Is it so grave an offence that it qualifies as a contentious issue of honor, whose restitution can be brought about by death and death only?
Additionally, the potential notion of women seeking justice from a Jirga usually sounds a death knell for the victim, who finds themselves to be mere pawns, lacking agency, on the dangerous checkerboard of family feuds and their resolution. The fact that women are not sanctioned as a Jirga’s members, witnesses or complainants, instead can only access it through male relatives of their family, manifests the misogynistic bearing of this system. In this context, it does not come as a surprise that quite recently Pakistan has been declared as the fourth worst country for women by the Georgetown Institute of Women Peace and Security something which is quite frightening to consider.
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 are taken to give voice to the victims and to deal with this issue at the earliest.
For this fore mostly of all, the government needs to extricate itself from its detached position and realize the exigency of curbing Jirga vehemence at the earliest. Instead of manifesting its obliviousness to the grating reality of Jirga’s by attempting to give legal cover to them under the Alternate Dispute Resolution bill, it is time that the policy makers realized that coercive measures are mandated to provide justice to all those for whom it now even fails to exist as a dream. 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 realized that deterrence serves as half the cure to grave social ills as Jirga sponsored ferociousness. 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 the society, and serves as a bait for potential criminals who see the possibility of their convenient release following their resort to the most heart wrenching of crimes.
Moreover, in clamping down Jirga violence, the local media can play an exigent role in condemning the Jirga justice in favor of formal judicial process. Local newspapers do disseminate news of honor 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 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.
Violence perpetuated by the Jirga’s does not resolve conflicts rather germinates them. It is farcical to even consider that violence can create a dialogic space, necessary for social harmony, when all it does is engage in a blatant monologue of social apathy. It is high time that concerted efforts are rendered to cure this malaise or else it would not be long before there would be another loss of an innocent life, another unceremonious burial of a silent victim of Jirga ferocity somewhere across the state, unfathomably killed because of the exercise of her right to exert autonomy , and hence to live.