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Women and the jirga

Those who issued murder verdicts against Kohistani women must be given exemplary punishment.

The Supreme Court hearing into the alleged killing of five women in Kohistan by a tribal jirga for the ‘crime’ of singing and dancing at a wedding in the alleged company of men has become quite the controversy. Till recently, the Court had been unable to verify whether the women were killed or not, or whether the jirga ever gave the order in the first place. The fault here does not lie with the Court, which has been pursuing the case vigorously in order to get the truth out of local officials. It is, in fact, these officials who are to blame since they claimed that the women were not killed but retreated into stony silence when asked if they had seen them.

This stony silence on the part of the officials prompted the Supreme Court into sending a fact-finding mission to determine if the women had indeed been killed. It has been discovered that the mission was able to meet two of the girls in the Sertay village of Kohistan. Thankfully, they bore no signs of torture and were reported to have been “happy with their families”. However, it is important to confirm the fate of the other three girls as soon as possible as one of the brothers of the two men who were dancing with the five women in the video, had earlier insisted that the women had been killed on the orders of the jirga. Even if all the girls are ultimately found to be alive and safe, this case raises a lot of questions about the concept of ‘honour’ in our society. Dancing at weddings is a common Pakistani tradition and the idea that these women dishonoured their families by singing and dancing is a ridiculous assertion. For some reason, we have also decided that it is only women, and never men, who dishonour their families. Those who issued murder verdicts against these women must be given exemplary punishment.

It is also unacceptable that the remoteness of Kohistan and tribal tradition means that the writ of the state does not extend there. Jirgas exist outside the conventions of the law and if there is anyone who should be punished, it must be those who insist on conducting them. Each judgment of a jirga is inherently illegitimate. It is time to take action against this unjust and backward system of tribal justice and bring every Pakistani under the legitimate law of the state.

The Express Tribune

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