Like in any transitional society, women are publicly opening up about their struggles with both the system and society about harassment in Pakistan as well. In many cases, specifically of sexual harassment, the woman is not only challenging the culture of shame, but also the dynamics of power and gender. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which claims to be the custodian of the modern concept of justice and accountability, ended up embracing colonial and hetero-patriarchal structures when its female parliamentarian made allegations against their party leader. The most tragic, and ironic, was the abusive reaction of many young tribal men and women from PTI, apparently striving for reforms in FATA’s colonial structures.
The case of Ms. Ayesha Gulalai is an unfortunate incident. She has been declared a vile woman without any investigations and fact-finding. The reactions of everyone from the ordinary people to celebrities, depicts a classic case of power and gender. It displays how the odds will be against you if you challenge a powerful alpha male. “The justice party PTI’s representatives, followers and some media persons started the character assassination of Ms. Ayesha Gulalai, her family members, and her tribe. Some of the legislators from frontier region even demanded that her trial be conducted under jirga system since she hails from Wazir tribe of FATA.
It also gives the impression that the party with a slogan of justice has no faith in the judicial structure that removed a sitting Prime Minister due to its campaign for justice against corruption. The party members, lobbying for justice and striving for a humane society, have asked a tribal jirga to implement Article 21 of the Frontier Crimes Regulation, borrowed by the British from a customary law of the tribal areas, in Ms. Gulalai’s case. Under that regulation and Riwaj Act, a person’s family, sub-tribe, or tribe can be punished by confiscating their property, in severe cases demolishing the house or houses and blockade of tribe. Sub-section A of the clause authorises the “seizure, wherever they may be found, of all or any of the members of such tribe, and of all and any property belonging to them or any of them” for an offence committed by one or more members of a tribe. The tribesmen have demanded to demolish her property under the same clause. The jirga from North Waziristan, FATA has warned that the tribesmen will besiege the house of the sitting member of Parliament, who enjoys certain privileges and immunity, if she failed to provide evidence. In addition, the jirga, without investigations, called her a woman who does not subscribe to tribal values and culture, but at the same time, is ready to persecute her under the same norms and culture. Although, there is no such instance available of a woman or her tribe being punished if she has accused someone of harassment in the FCR or Riwaj Act.
Along with the gender and power debate, it is observed that a discourse of women from core and periphery has also started. Ms. Gulalai’s tribe is from the peripheral FATA that has centuries-old outdated Riwaj and colonial legal system FCR, declared by the majority “a draconian” or “black law” devoid of human values. Jirga is also declared as one of the instruments of FCR, which is described by the Amnesty International as “an antiquated and draconian system of limited government with little or no recognition of or respect for human rights, the rule of law, due process, political representation or democratic institutions”. Thus, for many educated tribal women activists, it is very discouraging and unfortunate how their struggle against the oppressive system is challenged by different forces. They consider the tribal women sub-humans, devoid of any rights even if they are sitting in law-making chambers. PTI lawmakers want jirga and oppressive cultural norms to decide the fate of Ms. Gulalai. It is an established fact that today’s jirga usurps the basic concept of human dignity and delivers justice based on ignorance and prejudice in the tribal belt.
Moreover, why is this debate of jirga even applied to symbolic tribal woman residing in the settled areas? Is it because it does not require the due process of law, therefore the powerful will be able to go scot free without any investigations? Another query that comes to many sane and thinking minds is whether this is another tactic used by the forces that are bent on delaying the reforms in tribal areas and want to portray all-male institutions –profoundly misogynistic and anarchic– as a better system for FATA? It seems that the party that pledges to provide justice is now romanticising the colonial informal structures and undermining the struggle of many tribal women and men living under these repressive laws.
I am also not surprised that many men and women are calling Ms. Ayesha Gulalai as a pawn in the political circus of Pakistan. But many of us are forgetting that she is a product of our society where gender, power and control are all playing around us. She is not underage and understands the consequences of her failure to produce proof against a most powerful person, and darling of the media.
Women who come up with such claims know what awaits them. Complaints of harassment are always difficult to deal with in conservative and patriarchal societies, due to two important factors: one is hierarchy, and other is cultural shame. I am sure she knew being a whistle blower that they will question her creditability, social status and use her peripheral connections. Whether she can substantiate her claims or not, let’s not persecute her for her limited citizenship under tribal justice system and repressive laws of FCR. Jirga and FCR are not the tabdeeli for tribal women. They do not want to be boxed in by the colonial and patriarchal institutions anymore.