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For centuries Jirga and panchayat (community courts) system have been providing justice in most parts of South Asia. They still function in rural areas.

Black Justice of Jirgas
and the Need for Islamic Advisory Council for Jirgas

By Shah N. Khan, Moderator, Pakistan Post - Internet Discussion Group

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As Hafiz Mohammad Irfan writes in his article: Jirga and panchayat (community courts) system has a very long history in Asia, especially in the subcontinent. Although it is the fastest medium for dispute resolution, it has been used to protect the powerful while weak, poor people are victims of its negative processes.

Supreme Court of Pakistan

" O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do." Al Quran 005.008

At present the cost of obtaining justice from our courts is prohibitive for common man. Corruption and inordinate delays result in denial of justice in many cases. The Number of Pending cases in courts for years is staggering.

Justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done. Lord Hewart (1870-1943), British judge. This has been cardinal principle of Islamic Justice.

The current example in this regard is of Maryam Bibi who was stoned to death in Khanewal, a district of Punjab. Media reports say, Maryam Bibi, 25, mother of five, was cutting grass on the fields of a local landlord who reportedly forced her to submit to his sexual advances. When she refused, the landlord leveled allegations against the woman and took the matter to a local panchayat, which ordered that the woman be stoned to death. The order was carried out in her home in the wee hours of July 18. Her husband, Sarfaraz, was abducted, but later recovered. This is one of the worst examples of decisions that are made in jirgas and pachhayats in Pakistan. This is terrible; people in general have less respect for women across the country and specifically it can be witnessed in rural Sindh and south Punjab."

The following extracts from the Express Tribune is just one example of black justice of Jirga system followed not only in FATA but also in rural areas of all the four provinces.

Kohistan in the Hazara division : A tribal council of elders has condemned four women and two men to death for staining the honor of their families. A video presented to the jirga purported to show the alleged crime of mixing of the sexes in violation of the law of gender segregation during a wedding party while the accused allegedly dancing together.

After this shameful episode of rough justice, the convicted men fled the scene while the women were caught and locked up in a room in preparation for their execution. The Hazara administration is shocked by the trial by jirga and the indifferent nature of the evidence presented for conviction: the video coverage actually shows the convicts singing and dancing separately but they are shown in a single sequence. The reason behind this farce was not difficult to locate. It was a rival 's scheme to destroy a stronger and more affluent family. A member of one of the victimís family stated: Since our family is affluent and owns vast acres of forestland, orchards and agriculture farms in the village, our rivals hatched a plot to deprive us of them.

Not long ago a gang rape verdict of a Jirga in Punjab had caused quite an uproar all over the world including Pakistan. In June 2002, Mukhtar Mai was the survivor of a gang rape as a form of honor revenge, on the orders of a tribal council of the local Mastoi Baloch tribe. For her courage and determination to get the rapists and the Jirga members punished Mukhtaran, Government of Pakistan granted her a sum of half a million and she was invited to USA and honored.

The punishment of Honor Killing for allegation of premarital love affairs are often given by some Jirgas or Punchayats in our villages. Strange punishment as getting a minor daughter or sister married to old man also given.. It is said the in some such jirgas MPAs, MNAs and even ministers participate or preside and award Un Islamic punishment.

Proposal for Islamic Advisory Council for Jirgas and Punchayats

At present the cost of obtaining justice from our courts is prohibitive for common man. Corruption and inordinate delays result in denial of justice in many cases. The Number of Pending cases in courts for years is staggering.

While a great number of Ulema and Muftis waste their time in such routine matters as Ruyiyet Hilal Committee at district, provincial and Federal level, their services are not being employed by the Government for social reforms.

Islamic Ideological Council must prepare guidelines for Jirgas and Punchayats according to principles of Sharia and Fiqha. In Every district Muftis or other Ulema be appointed to attend the Jirgas as and when held in a village for which they may be given TA and DA as is done in case of Ruyiyet Hilal committees. Provisions may be made for Appeals against decisions of Jirgas in High court or session court.

In nutshell Government must ensure that justice is done without delay and Islamic ideals of justice are not violated by any Jirga or Punchayat

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Shah Nawaz Khan retired as Executive Director of State Life Insurance Corporation. He is now editing the weekly ezines that go to thousands of people around the world. You can post your views in Pakistan Post the leading discussion group of Pakistan.