AS illegal instruments that perpetuate violence against women because of their heinous ‘verdicts’, jirgas (or panchayats) are gravely detrimental to women’s lives. Despite federal and provincial laws outlawing this kind of parallel adjudication system, the state has failed to clamp down on the latter, which is why jirga justice thrives. Last week, reports revealed the disturbing extent of impunity associated with the jirga system when it emerged that a married woman was raped for more than a month by three influential panchayat members in Tandlianwala in Faisalabad. Her in-laws trusted the panchayat with taking the woman to her premarital home on the promise her parents would organise a rukhsati ceremony. Instead, these ‘arbitrators’ allegedly kidnapped and raped her. Marrying without her father’s approval was tantamount to ‘dishonouring’ her community, and so this woman was ‘punished’ by the jirga members. Whatever the reason for this crime, the latter must be investigated so that the victim receives justice. Jirga members sanctioning barbaric violence in the garb of punishment must know in no uncertain terms that they will be tried as criminals and sentenced if found guilty. Although it has been more than a decade since the 2002 jirga decision that led to Mukhtaran Mai’s gang rape as retribution for her brother’s transgression, women’s bodies continue to be bartered as they pay the price for crimes committed by others; most suffer ‘revenge’ rape or are killed for ‘honour’.
Here, reforming judicial processes to ensure accessibility so that communities do not resort to parallel justice systems is imperative. The state must not outsource dispute management and justice to jirgas because this is akin to handing over women’s rights to regressive elements. Instead, strengthening the offices of the federal and provincial ombudsmen will preserve the sanctity of the law. Though more crimes of a sexual nature are reported because women are breaking their silence, the process to reverse the undercurrents of misogyny is agonisingly slow. Change will only come if the state becomes an enforcer of the law.
Published in Dawn, December 31st, 2017