March 29, 2005
My mobile phone rang in the middle of a busy Karachi street. I could hardly hear. "Aryn, I forgot to tell you, you canít wear jeans as there is a dress code." I was halfway to the Sindh Club, Pakistanís most elite establishment (only a thousand members, none of them women, and until 1960, none of them Pakistani, either. Now itís where Pakistanís presidents, prime ministers, bankers, tycoons, and the landed gentry meet for dinner and talk about how the economy is booming for the top 2% of the country. The rest is still mired in third-world poverty). I was going to meet my first feudal lord for lunch. ("Only a small feudal lord," he chuckled, when I told him that. "I only have about 200,000 people on my lands"). I was wearing my typical outfit for Pakistan: the traditional knee-length, long sleeved tunic and a dupatta Ė the large, billowing scarf that no decent Pakistani woman would be seen without. A typical Pakistani woman would wear the brightly colored ensemble over similarly bright Hammer pants. I wore mine over jeans most of the time. Iím not a slave to fashion, but I donít do Hammer pants. Unless the dress code requires. I returned to the hotel and reemerged in a full salwar kameeze, to the evident approval of the entire lobby staff. "Yes, much better that way miss," the doorman told me, "Those jeans you wear are very unladylike." I returned to the Sindh club in a blaze of turquoise glory, and passed through the hallowed doors into a tranquil oasis of green lawns, tulips and bearers in starched uniforms. As I drank homemade ginger ale and worked my way through a plate of white asparagus and Dover sole, my small feudal lord told me about jirgas in the rural interior. "The court system simply doesnít work for Pakistanis out in the rural areas," he explained, "The process is so slow, so corrupt. And the courts are too far. A field worker doesnít have time to make the long journey to the courts. He has to get the crop in, sow the wheat, cut the rice. If he has a problem, it is much more efficient to call a jirga or a faisela." A jirga, or faisella in Sindhi, is a council of elders, usually led by the local feudal lord who dispenses justice like Solomon after a few hours of consultation. Most cases are settled by paying a fine Ė a small fee for a stolen buffalo, blood money for a murder (average rate is $6000), or sometimes a daughter, though that practice is said to be dying out. My small feudal lord cited the recent case of two feuding families, the Jenejos and the Kehers. Over the course of a long, hot summer, and over a tiff no one can even remember, four men from each family had been killed in a cycle of murder, retaliation and counter retaliation. In December, the leaders had had enough and called together a jirga, bring all male members of each family together to present their case. Within three hours a decision had been reached. Because each family had lost four men each, they would be called even. But because the Jenejos had in the process harmed one of the young Keher girls, even slightly, the Jenejos owed the Kehers compensation. The tribal elders agreed, the feudal lords agreed, and most importantly, the Junejos and the Kehers agreed, bringing peace to the traumatized villages. At least that was the theory. In Shikarpur I would see the reality on the ground.
Posted by Aryn Baker at March 29, 2005 01:22 PM