Over to jirgas and panchayats
It’s not the popularity of the system which apparently makes it widely acceptable in society; rather it’s the feudal nature of this society where tribal political elites continue to deepen their hold through such structures
The lawmakers in Pakistan are looking to legalise an outdated, tribal and feudal justice system, known as jirga or panchayat that have stuck with Pakistan as a taboo that cannot be washed away.
The entire reasoning behind the legalisation of this system is problematic: while it has been argued that this system is part of Pakistan’s culture and therefore it should be maintained rather provided constitutional cover, simply put, the validation of this system only underpins the inability of Pakistan’s courts to provide justice in timely, fair and transparent manner while entrenching the centuries old patriarchal practices which remain an outright obstruction towards the development of judicial and constitutional system in Pakistan.”Arbitrary and undemocratic governments in the past and present have supported these illegal and unjustified systems,” said Abid Hassan Minto, a legal and constitutional expert.
Moreover, it’s not the popularity of the system which apparently makes it widely acceptable in society; rather it’s the feudal nature of this society where tribal political elites continue to deepen their hold through such structures.
“These feudal lords are highly influential and control decision-making processes, parliament and determine societal norms whether good or bad,” said Minto.
Majority of lawmakers in Pakistan come from the same feudal and tribal background and in a way it’s in their interest to preserve this system, for it enhances their own political influence and control. “The feudal mentality has pervaded the modern urban life. MNAs, senators and ministers have supported jirga and panchayat systems as it helps them perpetuate their authority in their areas,” Minto added further.
The panchayat system is largely known for human rights violations which continue to inflict injustices on minorities and women, in particular. Under the system, atrocities have been committed in the name of honour and to preserve cultural values. Apparently the country’s landed feudal political elite is interested in further sanctioning these violent practices by brining the system into fold of law.
Tahira Khan, a feminist and cultural critic in her book ‘Beyond Honour’ argues that “the practice of extra judicial practices, such as jirga andpanchayat is central in widely accepted honour/shame scheme in South Asia.” She further contends that such systems “draw legitimacy from customary principles of tribal and feudal justice” whose power has been “reinforced by colonial practices of governance” that give “unchecked power to the local feudal lords over the lives of their people.”
In Pakistan the violent practice of karo kari is increasing. According to statistics, thousands of women have been killed due to this practice, mandated by jirga or panchayat system. Even when the panchayatsystem was considered outlawed, the country’s legal judicial or police system could not curtail its mainstream influence. Practices such as vani, acid attacks, forced marriages, killing of girls have remained socially acceptable due to the decrees of jirga or panchayat system.
Pakistan needs to work on abolishing such practices rather than sustaining them. A strong and deliverable legal system that is efficient and fair is the only way forward; rather than jirga or panchayat that pushes our justice system backwards
The legalisation of the practice would only reinforce the culture of impunity, supported by the state and its institutions. The government cannot ensure fairness and necessary scrutiny of the system when its own members are interested in maintaining it. However, its legalisation is likely to add further pressure on legal institutions in terms of defining its jurisdiction and who will ensure fair trial and fair justice.
One of the reasons that the feudal practices continue to find place in society is due to the failure of the country’s legal system. The judicial system of Pakistan is already overburdened and the people tend to avoid it. As I discussed elsewhere: “the establishment of these courts (localjirgas) also highlight another fact that Pakistan’s regular judicial system has become inapt and people have lost their faith in the country’s civic court system. Last year, the Pakistani Parliament passed an amendment to the constitution to establish the special military courts. The military courts were setup because the civilian courts had been unable to decide on the cases related to hard core militants.”
“The poor cannot stand a chance under this legal system,” says argues Osama Siddique in his book Pakistan’s Experience with Formal Law: An Alien Practice. In Pakistan, “the law has no remedies for the underprivileged. Might is right… This legal system is utterly obsolete and needs complete overhauling,” Siddique further notes in his book.
Pakistan needs to work on abolishing such practices rather than sustaining them. A strong and deliverable legal system that is efficient and fair is the only way forward; rather than jirga or panchayat that pushes our justice system backwards.
A uniform legal system is the need of time rather than politically and socially mandated cruel practices which serve the interests of tiny elite in this country.