Sunday, December 04, 2005

Test of Fire

The Magazine today carried this this horrific story:
Certain inhuman things practised in Balochistan need to be discussed here. There was a time when the issues of karo-kari, theft, land and monetary disputes were settled through traditional laws implemented by the jirgas formed by the Nawabs and the Sardars. In order to prove himself innocent, the accused used to walk on red and hot embers (called char beli in the local language). If his feet appeared to be swollen or burnt, he would be considered guilty.

Sad as it may sound, some young people of this region have re-started to hold char beli jirgas after a lapse of many years. They have revived the dreaded custom. As per tradition, about 10ft-long, 3ft-deep, and 3ft-wide pit is dug in which about 20 clumps of wood are burnt. When the wood is burnt and turns red, the accused is asked to walk on embers. A person belonging to the Bugti tribe is called from Balochistan who is thought to be an expert in such a jirga sitting. He recites Quranic verses and the accused puts his hands over the Holy Quran. Then a goat is slaughtered, and blood is poured into a pot. While the accused walks on embers, two persons stand beside the pit. They lift the accused with their arms when he reaches the end of the pit and immediately his feet are put in the pot containing blood.
The sad part is that these practices will not die out unless the people there are educated. They need to be informed that there are more humane ways to judge the innocence/guilt of an accused. Even sadder is the fact that these practices only strengthen the tribe leaders. Of course the feet will burn either way, but the whole ritual will sanctify the verdict of the "impartial" judge. And since they end up wielding so much authority through this barbaric ritual, they will definitely not want education and awareness to come to the people. And the vicious cycle would just continue on and on.

What is more interesting is that these are areas for which are generally considered to be neglected by the government. To some extent that charge is justified- but also consider this. If the people at the helm- the ones with the political power - don't want such change to come in, there isn't much that the government can do. After all, these very people constitute the government of those areas.

The only way to break out of this cycle is for the federal government to adopt a very firm stance on it and make sure that change occurs. It needs to make sure that the funds that are allocated to the MPAs and MNAs of these areas are actually spent on establishing schools and courts of law. It would also help if some NGO's were to get involve in this. But at the end of it is still hostage to the local tribal chiefs. Change is indeed difficult to bring about in such areas.