Following such incidents, social media activism is seen as an effort to raise voices against power structures; however, it is necessary to understand how they work in a bid to challenge them.
Sindh’s feudal lords have large landholdings, a huge number of private guards, who can kill or be killed for them, and farmers, tenants, farm labourers and common people from their tribal groups are completely dependent on them, in return for social, economic, and political support and personal protection.
Pakistani political scientist, writer and academic Eqbal Ahmad once wrote, “feudalism serves as the whipping boy of Pakistan's intelligentsia.” Except for a historical perspective on feudal elites provided by historian and academic Dr. Mubarak Ali in the book Jagirdari, no scientific research exists on the nature, extent, and influence of feudal power structures and how they function in Pakistan. In addition, PPP leader Dr. Nafisa Shah has discussed tribal and feudal structures and their power in tribal clashes concerning karo-kari murders in Upper Sindh in her book ‘Honour Unmasked’. Dr. Shah’s book explains how karo-kari murders are used to justify starting, avenging, or resolving tribal feuds, as was reported in the recent murder of Professor Ajmal Sawand by the Sundrani tribespeople in the Kandhkot-Kashmore district, that it was a result of an ongoing tribal clash on karo-kari between Sawand and Sundrani tribes a few months ago.
Immense feudal power and the cruel exercise of that power by feudal lords is a major factor that perpetuates tribal conflicts and honor-related crimes.
The author’s PhD research on the political economy of honour and honour killings argues that feudalism in its original form has been abolished or replaced with modern democracy or another political system in many countries. However, in some ways, it still exists with all of its power in Pakistan, particularly in Sindh, as a feudal culture. It’s not in the original form of the Middle Ages when the feudal lords maintained private armies or collected taxes. Still, Sindh’s feudal lords have large landholdings, a huge number of private guards, who can kill or be killed for them, and farmers, tenants, farm labourers and common people from their tribal groups are completely dependent on them, in return for social, economic, and political support and personal protection.
Consequently, local elites have a very strong influence in all parts of Sindh, particularly upper Sindh, and these directly influence all aspects of common people's lives. They also enjoy control over government institutions such as the police, courts, district administrations, education and health. Local elites enjoy power in all sorts of governments, whether it is democracy or dictatorship; one way or another, they are part of the government, though more permeable in some societies than others. They are members of legislative assemblies, ministers and government advisors. It is in their interest to rule the people and keep them desolate, uneducated, and economically dependent through the instrumentalization of official government machinery and private bandits. Above all, feudal lords are key arbitrators in inter or intra-tribal conflicts and their settlements through jirga. Due to the massive power base of the 'feudal', no one dare raises their voice against the landlord for fear of being socially excluded, economically crippled or facing terror. Immense feudal power and the cruel exercise of that power by feudal lords is a major factor that perpetuates tribal conflicts and honor-related crimes.
Largely, feudal lords and their cronies enjoy hegemony and power in the feudal culture; nevertheless, its behaviors and norms are exaggerated versions of those from wider society. Widespread violence and intolerance against women, girls, children, transgender people, and religious minorities is a case of such shared behaviors. The feudal culture has several tools and mechanisms to operate and influence, but its key tools to sustain itself are violence, jirga, the backing of key state institutions and the capability to operate above the law. Over the years, thousands of murders of women and men have been settled through this system across the country. There is no systematic study on the prosecution rate of karo-kari murders. Yet, anecdotes suggest that the conviction rate in the case of honor killings is just 2.0%, while the acquittal rate is more than 20.9% of those cases tried in the court. An overwhelming majority of cases are settled through jirgas.
Similarly, a jirga system is a powerful tool tribal leaders use to demonstrate their power and control. A Sardar or a Wadero usually heads a jirga, and both warring parties unanimously agree upon a decision made by them. Most disputes, including tribal feuds, karo-kari, theft, land, or property, are settled through jirgas instead of courts.
Sindhi newspapers report such incidents regularly. A local Sindhi newspaper reported an incident where a jirga settled an ongoing dispute among three different groups of the Jatoi community. The dispute started over an alleged affair, where the woman's family killed the man over the accusation. The matter intensified, and at least four other men, two from each side, were killed, with one man sustaining injuries. The matter went to the jirga, which declared the first murder a necessity due to the illicit affair, while it also said that the four other killings nullified each other as both sides had lost two men.
I fear the fate of Dr. Ajmal Sawand’s murder could be the same as it is reported that so far in the Sawand and Sundrani conflict, 7 men from Sundrani and 4 men, including Dr. Sawand from Sawand tribe, have been killed. If Dr. Sawand’s family budged to settle the dispute through a tribal jirga, it would be an injustice to Ajmal and Sindh’s shaoor.
In the country's deteriorating law and order situation, the illegal and discriminatory power structures should be dismantled through political, social, and legal measures that constitute a cultural transformation, leading to a change in behaviors and norms.