Despite their many flaws, jirgas have been vital in maintaining law and order in rural Sindh

The jirga system provides quick and free of cost justice through settling disputes. Hence, the jirga needs to be allowed social and legal space to work in the areas marred by tribal clashes

Although the old age tradition of jirga is one of the much maligned systems in Sindh for its many flaws, yet it has been providing vital services to control the law and order situation, especially at a time when the state continues to fail in providing masses with a peaceful environment.  It plays a significant role in settling years-old deadly tribal disputes in Sindh’s rural areas.

Some days ago a grand jirga was held at the farmhouse of an influential chieftain in Shikarpur to settle bloody tribal clashes between Brohi-Kakepota, Bakhrani-Brohi, Sundhrani-Tunia and Marfani-Brohi tribes. The sardars and the waderas belonging to Shikarpur, Jacobaabad, and Kandh Kot districts, who are famous for jirga expertise, justice, and impartiality, performed their role as conciliators. The jirga succeeded in bringing about conciliation among all the disputing tribes. The conciliators listened to the statements and arguments of the disputing parties and their witnesses. Within hours, verdicts were made by the conciliators. The people from clashing tribes were satisfied. Those who had been enemies for years were seen hugging and giving each other well wishes.

Jirga system administers free of cost and quick justice to the people. The conciliators do not charge any fee for their services. This is why they enjoy high esteem and traditional authority in society. The people trust them and comply with their decisions made in the jirga.    

The tribal feud between Brohi and Kakepota lasted 20 years in Garhi Yasin, one of the talukas of district Shikarpur. They used to attack one another’s villages with sophisticated and automatic weapons repeatedly. The dispute took 18 lives of innocent people of both parties, while police performed its role as a silent spectator. Neither did either of the parties get an FIR registered at police stations nor did any arrest take place for these killings. A tribal feud between Tunia and Sundhrani clans in the jurisdictions of Garhi Yasin had claimed seven lives including two women.  In another bloody clash between Brohi and Marfani tribes embarked upon petty matter of ownership of piece of land had swallowed up 120 lives of people of both tribes. 

In its heyday, Shikarpur was the seat of civilization, culture, trade, commerce, and was considered the Paris of Sindh because of its beauty, prosperity, development and peace. But, unfortunately, during the last three decades many deadly tribal clashes have taken place among various tribes – such as Mahar, Jatoi, Brohi, Marfani, Katohar, Qambrani, Bhayo, Shar, Khosa, Issani, Sundrani, Chandia, Pahore, Teghani, Ogahi, Jeha, Lolai, Machhi, Kakepota, Bakhrani, Sundhrani, Tunia, and Jakhrani – in which a huge number of people have lost their lives and many injured. Besides, approximately 30 percent population of the affected villages in district was forced to migrate to urban areas and other safe places. About 90 percent schools stopped being functional in the villages and were being used by criminals as their hideouts. All these deadly disputes were settled with the help of jirgas.

A 20-year-old bloody clash between the Mahar and Jatoi tribes, which had claimed 150 lives on both sides and a 15-year-old deadly dispute between the Jatoi and Jagirani tribes in which 24 persons of both warring parties had been killed, with the intervention of their chieftains, were settled amicably through jirgas in 2008 and 2015 respectively. As a result, they have been living together in villages in close proximity maintaining peaceful relations with one another.

A study conducted by a local NGO, Bhittai Social Welfare Association Khairpur on the ‘Impact of tribal conflicts on economic, social and cultural life in upper Sindh’  in Khairpur, Sukkur, Shikarpur, Ghotki, Larkana, Qambar-Shahdadkot, Jacobabad and Kandhkot districts revealed that from 2010 to 2012 tribal conflicts claimed lives of 772 people including many women and children.

In tribal feuds within Sindh, people of the parties indulged in dispute are killed indiscriminately, regardless of whether they are involved in any murder or not. As a result the weak and the peaceful are the most affected people in these disputes, because they are killed by their opponents in retaliation to murders of their tribesmen.

Mostly in tribal clashes cases are not registered at police stations by the affected families for murders of their relatives because it is considered dishonour, weakness and cowardice. In the race of assassination in vengeance for assassination, each party tries to equalize the number of casualties. Meanwhile, the role of police is to take away dead bodies from the crime spots for postmortem and to register cases themselves. The police mostly avoid intervening in the feuds.  In this way, cases of tribal disputes are not brought to courts. However, courts will not be able to conduct the cases anyway, because there are so many complications in these cases. In most instances, there is a lack of identification of assassins, evidences or witnesses.

The clashes made on inconsequential issues claim several lives and property.  Once a clash is initiated, no member of the warring clan can move freely to look after his crops or carry on his job at another village, town or city owing to the fear of getting killed by the opponents. The situation results in financial problems for members of fighting tribes. As a result, they become criminals and outlaws to further deteriorate peace by committing crimes including murders, theft, robbery kidnapping for ransom, and bike snatching etc to feed their hungry family members. Hence, they spoil the law and order situation of the whole region.

Chotu Gang, consisting of around 200 members, killed seven policemen, injured 18 and took 25 hostage, when security forces tried to enter a forest in an island in Indus River area between Rajanpur and Rahim Yar Khan districts in southern Punjab bordering the district Kandh Kot. Unfortunately, the ringleader Ghulam Rasool Mazari alias Chotu and all other members, who belong to various tribes including Sudwani, Umerani, Bakhrani, Jakhrani and Sikhwani a sub-caste of the Mazari tribe, are the creation of feudal clashes. Like Shikarpur, Kandh Kot district is the most impacted owing to feudal disputes.

It is a fact that education is badly affected in the areas of tribal clashes. During these clashes, the regions under the influence of both the tribes remain no-go areas not only for the people of each warring tribe but also for police and outsiders. Normal activities in those areas remain suspended due to uncertainty. Meanwhile, teachers do not attend their duties and schools remain closed due to the precarious law and order situation in these war-torn areas. Thus children miss out on the opportunity to get education. Regrettably the overall literacy rate in these villages is very low.

In reality, jirga system provides quick and free of cost justice through settling disputes. Hence, the jirga needs to be allowed social and legal space to work in the areas marred by tribal clashes. But yes, necessary reforms must be brought about to remove its many persisting flaws.

Shaikh Abdul Rasheed is a social activist and researcher. Follow him on Twitter

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