A parallel system of justice



April 17, 2023

A parallel system of justice

Ambassador Alam Brohi points towards a sharp disconnect

Notwithstanding the disapproval by the superior courts displayed from time to time, a parallel system of justice called “Jirga” dating back centuries has persistently survived in some tribes of our society. The tribal chiefs or notables of a tribe or region intercede in a festering conflict within their tribe or between two separate tribes to restore peace.

The tribal jury takes into account the root cause of the dispute; the losses in terms of life and property; determine the culpability of the aggressor and the loss of the aggrieved and finally imposes fines accordingly. The tribal Jirga has no sanction of law.

The violent conflicts are normally triggered by disputes over land, a matrimonial match, elopement of couples, honour killing and vengeful retaliation. Sometimes, the intense pressure of the tribal notables for reconciliation suppresses the animosity between the parties, but the embers of hostility keep smouldering under the surface, and re-erupt after years of consuming more lives. In most cases, however, the parties honour the reconciliation because of the fear of the notables’ backlash or genuine concerns for the safety of their younger generations.

Some verdicts pronounced by tribal Jirga, more often than not, result in life-long miseries for a party when minor girls are handed over in retributive justice to the supposedly aggrieved party or impose an equally vulgar humiliation on the aggressor that includes forced marriages, gang rape and physical dishonour of women of the party found guilty in cases of the elopement of a pair, fornication and rape. Such scandalous cases were reported not long ago in the national media that brought a bad name to the country.

The Jirga system has once again caught the attention of the conscious sons and daughters of Sindh. The tragic murder of a young man, Ahmed Ali Brohi, in an honour killing in the Larkana district has been viral on social media for some time now. An uncle accused Ahmed Ali of having spoiled the marriage of his daughter by sending inappropriate voice messages to her would-be husband in January 2023. The matter was settled within the family after medical tests of the girl that refuted the false messages of Ahmed Ali. The uncle lured Ahmed Ali to accompany him for reconciliation with some other relatives offended by his messages. The young man disappeared for two months. His mother (with the Holy Book on her head) and brothers knocked at every door running from pillar to post to have a clue about him or his life.

In the meantime, the notables of the area put pressure on the parents of Ahmed Ali Brohi to sell their lands and other properties and shift from the village before the other party could reveal his whereabouts. The parents acquiesced to their demand to sell their lands, house and other properties. They made a down payment of Rs.2 million. The uncle is poor and did not have the means to buy the land. Most probably, he acted as the front-man of some affluent relatives from another town eyeing the lands of the aggrieved family.

Having done all this, the notables assembled as a jury for the settlement of the dispute. Before the jury of the notables, the uncle and his supporters confessed that they have killed Ahmed Ali Brohi and his dead body was thrown in Rohri Canal. What would have been more shocking and devastating news than this for the parents and siblings of the late Ahmed Ali?

After the audacious confession of the heinous crime, the Jury held the uncle and his accomplices guilty and imposed a fine of Rs.5 million on him. However, it deducted the amount of the down payment and restored the lands and properties to the aggrieved party. The parents of the Late Ahmed Ali turned down the Jury’s verdict and decided to seek justice through the courts. The police – slumbering for three months – sprang into action registering FIR and making some arrests. The mother of the boy carrying the holy Quran is still running around telling everyone in broken Sindhi that she wants the state to dispense ruthless justice for her son’s murder; she wants to see the murderers of her son on the gallows. She is in Karachi since last week.

The social media has been calling her Mai Jindo of 2023. The sons of Mai Jindo were butchered by a mad serving Major in a bid to help a relative acquire the possession of a disputed piece of land near Hyderabad in 1987-88. The Mai followed the prosecution of her sons’ murders to the end. She has since become a legend for resistance in Sindh folklore.
The Jirga has persisted to survive due mainly to the long and expensive proceedings within our judicial system, and the lethargic and generally defective investigations by the police. The civil and criminal suits in our session courts take years if not decades to result in verdicts that too are subject to review in appeals by the superior courts. The parties squander all their savings and properties in the pursuit of litigation throughout all these years.

In most cases, the alleged perpetrators of heinous crimes go scot-free because of the defective investigations by police – notorious for extorting money from the aggressor and the aggrieved. It tampers with the facts of the cases including evidence in favour of powerful parties. The anomalies and contradictions in the police investigations result in the acquittal of the accused causing public disenchantment in the judicial system. The poverty and powerlessness, therefore, force the common populace to remain at the mercy of the powerful clan leaders who have a nexus with the police to suppress and settle matters involving heinous crimes according to their whims.

We urgently need to overhaul our judicial and police systems. The Courts of Peace at every police station sanctioned by law would provide relief to powerless people like the family of diseased Ahmed Ali Brohi. For how long will distressed Mai Jindos run from pillar to post for justice? TW

Alam Brohi is former
Ambassador of Pakistan and was associated with Foreign Service of Pakistan 


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