PAKISTAN: While illegal and gender-biased verdicts are passed by a Jirga with the assent of the State, women make amends

Whether fully or partially responsible for a crime, whether involved or not in an offence, women in Pakistan frequently come off worst when it comes to punishment. Gender-biased practises and discriminatory attitudes have become social norms which have even gained the status of religious dictates. Islam, in its original doctrine and essence, promotes equal recognition and respect for both women and men, and yet deceptive interpretations of religious precepts are too often referred to as justifications for unjust verdicts. As a result of centuries of patriarchal mindsets and inequalities, the boundaries between religion, tradition and gender-based violence and discrimination have become an intricate grey area.

The latest events occurred in the village of Gul Sher Kandrani, Thul, Jacobabad (upper Sindh) and reported by the major media and newspapers of the country, may also be defined as discreditable and blameworthy.

A Jirga verdict imposed a fine of Rs. 1.2 million on Mr. Sanuallah Bangladi, who has been declared karo (black man) for having allegedly committed a moral offence by having an illicit relationship with two married women (now deceased). Furthermore, the Jirga ordered him to hand over his two minor daughters (5 and 15-year-old) as brides for the sons of Mr. Abdul Samad Banglani, husband of both kari women and police Constable of the Garhi Hassan Sarki police station, whose jurisdiction extends to the village of Gul Sher Kandrani.

Regardless of the foundation of the allegation of karo kari, there are two disappointing aspects to consider in this case: the accusation of adultery is a mere instrument to serve personal purposes and political resentment, and, as too often happens in Pakistan, young girls become victims of gender-biased practises and are demanded as property to settle a dispute.

It has been reported that police Constable Abdul Samad Banglani killed both his wives, Mrs. Hanul Khantoon and Mrs. Amroz Khantoon, as both of them were supposedly kari. He was then spared any sort of legal accountability for the double murder committed thanks to the verdict of the local Jirga, which promptly accused Sanuallah of karo kari with the aim of taking revenge over some political matter. In fact, in the recent general elections, Sanuallah decided to support Mr. Khan Bijarani, candidate for the Pakistan Peoples Party, who was a political opponent of Mr. Jahangir Banglani, an influential landlord of the area and Jirga leader that was running in the same elections.

In an official statement, Mr. Malik Zafar Iqbal, Senior Superintendent of Jacobadad Police, confirmed the dynamic of the events. However, he denied the responsibility of Jahangir and his clan in the house raid of Sanuallah, which resulted in the kidnapping of his wife and one of his two daughters, an obvious retaliation against his refusal to hand over the two girls.

It is embarrassing to observe the way in which corrupt and high-handed personalities in the country break the law, deny clear evidence related to their shameless offenses and cowardly resort to harassing women in order to avenge wrongdoings allegedly committed by male family members of these innocent women (often minor girls). Furthermore, this case offers an opportunity to comment on the disapproval that needs to be strongly voiced against the practice of wani, which entails the bartering of girls and women and their consequential forced marriage to settle tribes’ disputes or appease personal quarrels. Such centuries old custom was declared illegal in 2011 but, unfortunately, it is still widely employed as a form of ‘justice’ decided upon by the Jirgas. This practice reiterates the deeply patriarchal mindsets which conceive women and girls as male commodities and inferior individuals, entitled to no rights or freedom but supposed to be placed as ‘pawns’ so as to please male dominated families and feudal structured communities. Discrimination and cruelty to the detriment of women characterise the way the Jirgas pass their judgements, which either include the capital punishment of women declared kari, or the handing over and forced marriage of young girls to male members (often very old men) of opponent groups, these being opponent families and tribes or political rivals. In the Jirgas’ gender-biased judicial framework, women always pay because of, or instead of men.

Law enforcement agencies in Pakistan are duty-bound to make sure that Jirgas do not congregate at all and that their illegal verdicts are not imposed. It is unacceptable that institutions, including police forces and even lower courts, support the verdicts of Jirgas and sometimes even allow them to convene within their jurisdictions and public premises, given the fact that these unjust assemblies were officially banned as unconstitutional and unlawful courts around 10 years ago.

There exists a profound level of indolence and apathy which affects the entire state apparatus and guarantees the survival of the Jirga system, which flourishes particularly in Sindh Province and South Punjub and mainly deliberates on cases of honour killings or feudal disputes, which always conclude with judgements against women. Seen as an institution that delivers ‘justice’ in a cheaper and faster manner, its endurance is supported both by official agencies which avoid the troubles of professional case-handling policies and processes, as well as common people who aim at bypassing long, costly, and often unsatisfying legal procedures.

Throughout time, such tacit and indirect support by several actors has weakened the rule of law within the country, exposed people (women, especially) to prejudiced and biased sentences and has strengthened non-state actors such as rich clans and extremist religious groups, who have regularly found redress in this one-sided and inequitable judicial system.

Given the scenario, and in light of the happenings in the village of Gul Sher Kandrani, responsibilities need to be traced both in society and among institutions. In order to see improvements in Pakistan, it is fundamental to bring about change in people’s mindsets and attitudes, from the way girls and women are valued to the way justice is conceived. It is inadmissible in the current century to perpetuate the belief that ancestral forms of bartering involving humans, and affecting women and girls in particular, can offer a fair solution to disputes and can guarantee justice. Furthermore, relevant categories such as parliamentarians, lawyers, social workers, academics and so on need to step forward and join women’s rights organisations in their mobilisation against what can be considered as the manipulation of religious teachings combined with the reiteration of ancient patriarchal practices, aimed at guaranteeing male dominance in society.

On the other hand, the formal judicial system needs to promptly respond to the largely shared lack of trust in its efficiency through adequate reforms, vigilant monitoring and imposing severe sanctions against any confirmed illegal activity performed by Jirgas. After many cases of failure in the good rule of law, definitive action and essential commitment by the Government of Pakistan are necessary requirements in order to eradicate the parallel and illegitimate judicial system represented by the Jirgas, which for decades have delivered an unquantifiable amount of injustice, becoming thus responsible for several human losses and profound sufferance imposed upon countless families.

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-005-2014
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Extrajudicial killings, Freedom of religion, Judicial system, Non-state actors, Rule of law, Women's rights,