When will the panchayat culture end?

While countries are progressing in terms of laws, healthcare and technological advancement, it is a shameful sight that we can’t end an outdated system where the village council takes the law into their own hands and settles scores. A girl paraded naked in revenge for the crime of her brother in a village near Dera Ismail Khan is another recent example.

The tragic incident took place on the morning of October 27th in the area of Matt. The girl, Sharifa Bibi was fetching water where a group of men abused her, stripped her naked and made her walk around the village for an hour. The men did this in revenge because her brother had an affair with a girl from their family three years earlier. Although the local village council “resolved” the matter with the brother paying a heavy fine of Rs 25,000, the men still decided to target his sister instead.

This incident is not unique as similar tragedies have taken place in the past. Often girls are punished in Pakistan’s rural areas by the village council known as jirga for the crimes committed by their male relatives. In July this year, a woman was raped on the orders of a jirga in a village near Multan because her brother had sexually assaulted another woman. In 2002,Mukhtaran Mai was raped and paraded naked in the village of Jatoi in Muzaffargarh district as a punishment for her then 12-year-old brother’s alleged affair with a 20-year-old woman.

In Pakistan people in the remote areas rely more on the jirga on taking swift justice rather than on the local people.

There have been reforms and laws dedicated to improve the status of women in the world. But Pakistan is still considered one of the most dangerous countries for woman and according to the Gender Gap Index 2016 – it is ranked 144 out of 145 countries, only behind Yemen.

Although the local police later arrested the suspects accused in the Sharifa Bibi case, the poor woman would still have to live with this stigma for the rest of her life. This also raises questions on Pakistan’s justice system. Although the jirgas are considered illegal, but are still widespread and common in Pakistan’s remote areas and unfortunately no action is being taken against them.

It’s a shame that women in Pakistan’s remote areas are seen as inanimate objects rather as independent human beings and are simply used to settle personal scores. We need to change this mindset by encouraging critical thinking and working on improving the education system especially in low-literacy areas, take action against illegal jirgas and remove this mindset once and for all. There is a need to strengthen our justice system as well, especially within the police department. The police should try to gain its trust among the locals and take swift action whenever there is a problem so that locals don’t have to rely on illegal jirgas to settle matters.

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