Monday, August 7, 2017


This country often seems close to a destruction brought about by its own people.
The PTI women’s wing’s challenge shows how little justice is understood, how seldom people think, how unable they are to relate one thing to another and arrive at a rational ‘therefore’, and how confused they are in their values and priorities.
A small Pakistani child was treated for a rare heart disease in India recently. This specialised surgery could not be performed in Pakistan which lacked the expertise. Of course in Pakistan in the Punjab, young doctors have repeatedly been on strike over the years. This Sunday was the fifth day of their current strike. 46 doctors have been suspended.  Jail Road in Lahore was the scene of riots. Water cannons, batons and tear gas were used to disperse protestors and members of the Young Doctors’ Association (YDA). You wonder whether things might improve if there were some organised efforts by the relevant Ministries to discuss demands.
Pakistan also appears to be on the brink of a communications blackout. Underwater cables that provide most of Pakistan’s bandwidth have been damaged near Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Businesses are the first to suffer due to poor connectivity, which impacts the entire country. The Profit – a magazine of this newspaper – reported that ‘Planning on the part of relevant authorities seems to be myopic. Pakistan has the least number of submarine cables providing internet connectivity, just six, five of which have been laid in the last 14 years. Are the planners aware of the repercussions of their lack of planning?’
Another important question is: do they care?
Meantime, this newspaper also reported that while power shortage and subsequent load shedding continues in this country, the journal ‘Science Advances’ has warned of “summer heat waves with levels of heat and humidity that exceed what humans can survive without protection.” About 30 percent of the population in the region would be exposed to these harmful temperatures, and the densely populated farming regions of South Asia could fare the worst, because workers cannot escape into air-conditioned environments. If air-conditioned environments existed for them, that is, which they don’t.
In Skardu, torrential rains have flooded several areas, and destroyed homes. Roads are blocked due to floods and people there are in need of aid. Relief operations are said to be underway.
While all this and much more takes place in the country, those that ought to be immersed in solving these issues, and the public, have been spending much of that damaged bandwidth on following little more than the latest on Ayesha Gulalai. And here’s the funny thing: The PTI women’s wing has recently issued a warning to Gulalai, asking her to ‘apologise or face the Jirga.’
That is a challenge which says a lot.
The Jirga/Panchayat system of Pakistan is based on old tribal custom where a group of village elders passes judgement on any matter that requires adjudication.
This system exists in the presence of the mainstream judicial system of the country. While it is impossible for two separate systems to co-exist, much as it is for two deities, there have been arguments for the Jirga to continue, since the mainstream system is seen to have failed the country. This might be disputed in some quarters, particularly in the light of the support received by the recent judgement against the Prime Minister, when actually it is in the light of that very judgement that the mainstream system has shown itself once again, to be in need of an overhaul. But the solution to treating your daughter’s disease is not to allow her to die and to produce yet another daughter to replace her. It is to try and cure that disease.
The last persons to tout the Jirga should be women.
Which is what would make the PTI women’s wing’s challenge so funny if it were not to sad. Their challenge shows how little justice is understood, how seldom people think, how unable they are to relate one thing to another and arrive at a rational ‘therefore’, and how confused they are in their values and priorities.
The Jirga/Panchayat system had until earlier this year no validity according to the constitution, but it is allowed to persist because tradition is harder to override than other things, and because the alternatives are pathetic. Therefore, better the devil you know. In February this year the National Assembly passed a Bill that gives that tribal system constitutional cover. It came into effect immediately in the Capital and was to be extended gradually throughout the country. The Sindh High court has not accepted this move and banned Jirgas from passing judgement in that province.
Women are the greatest victims of Jirgas, which shows how much the PTI women’s wing is in touch with reality. Jirgas and Panchayat are entirely composed of men. Since Jirgas exist in areas which are also overwhelmingly biased against women, this bias is invariably reflected in its decisions.
Not only are Jirgas composed entirely of men, but these men belong to the influential segment of society. Which, in this country, means the landowners and feudal lords. That is damning not just for women, but for women from the downtrodden, oppressed segment of society since landowners and feudal lords do not have the best track record, neither in their attitudes towards women nor in their dealings with the less fortunate segment of society.
Given all this, when a biased judgement is passed, and it invariably is, a Jirga system provides no means of appeal. You accept that your daughter, sister, mother is responsible for causing the man to rape her and she pays the penalty, when in fact you know that her rapist was a cad of the first water who knew who would get away with his crime. And did.
Last year, a nine year old girl in the Punjab was handed over to settle a murder case decided by a Panchayat. She was the sister of the murderer who was ordered to be married to the murdered woman’s uncle.
In a similar case this year a three year old girl was ordered to be married by a Jirga in the Neelum Valley to settle a dispute in the family.
Also last year, ‘a Jirga of notables’ in Mirpurkhas settled a case of rape with thirty maunds of wheat. The victim’s father said he was forced to accept the judgement by the Jirga.
In Gujrat, a women set herself on fire and died after a judgement passed by a Panchayat. In her case her father was accused (and later released) on a charge of raping a minor girl. The Panchayat ordered that the accused rapist’s daughter (the woman who set herself on fire) should be raped in turn by the minor girl’s father.
These are only some of the decisions passed by Jirgas and Panchayat in this country. And the PTI woman’s wing has threatened another woman with a similar brand of ‘justice’. This is a political party that was also vociferous in its praise for the recent Supreme Court verdict. Hoist by your own petard, PTI.
I’m not sure I want the fate of this country which already hangs in the balance to be anywhere in the vicinity of such a group of people, not that other groups are any better.
Maybe Asma Jahangir – who makes a great deal of sense in what she says but lacks the appropriate manner in which to convey herself – should start a grassroots effort to communicate her views on justice to the common people of this country. Because lacking such views as hers, this country will be destroyed, and its own people will have brought about this destruction.

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