Innocent?… Then Walk on the Burning Coal!

Posted on January 19, 2009
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Law & Justice, Society
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Owais Mughal

It is not the first time that I’ve heard such news in the past few months. Reportedly, on Jan 19, 2009, a tribal council (jirga) near Quetta asked an accused man to walk on burning coal to prove his innocence.

The barbarism and insanity of this practice is depicted in the photograph to the right from the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP). The picture is, in fact, of the punishment being carried out. The APP photograph does not have details, but it seems that it relates to this news item in The News (Jan. 20, 2009):

Decades-old practice of walking on burning coal is still alive to this modern age in Balochistan, as a forty-year-old man on Monday walked on burning coal over a property dispute with his brother in Mastung district.

The incident happened in Azizabad, located some 40 kilometres from the provincial capital, where one Nazim Ali walked on burning coal to prove his innocence. Nazim told newsmen afterwards that his brother, living in Quetta, had refused him the right in the property. While Nazim’s brother denied the allegation and claimed to have given Nazim his share. He contacted some tribesmen and at last Nazim Ali was [sic] agreed to walk on burning coal to prove his innocence. If there are burn marks on his feet, the man is considered guilty and a Jirga decides his fate, said a tribesman in Azizabad.

Reports said a 12 feet long, two feet wide and two feet deep trench was dug up, which was filled with dry wood. The wood was burnt for over two hours. As the time to take the test of innocence approached, a veteran walked close to the fire and recited verses from the holy Qura’an. One of the elders told the verses were recited to bring the fire ‘under control’ so that it would not harm the innocent and only burn the guilty. Hundreds of people, including friends and relatives of the accused, stood around the burning coal when the accused took a walk on burning coal. He was immediately taken to a bucket filled with the blood of a slaughtered goat and dipped his feet in it.

“If there were burn marks on his feet, the man is considered guilty and Jirga decides further course of action against him. If his feet remain safe, he will be declared innocent,” another tribesman Muhammad Saleem said.

The incident was witnessed by hundreds of people and widely reported in the media. The time to decide whether the accused was innocent or guilty will be decided on Tuesday at a news conference, an elder of the Jirga told The News.

The photographs are obviously disturbing, but even more disturbing is the fact that this could happen today. In my opinion, while mediation can be done by anyone, justice and physical punishments should only be given through Government appointed courts. I think this photo here is yet another form of vigilante style justice and it challenges the writ of the Government.

Photo to the left is after this guy completed his walk on burning coals (although it looks like the feet are dipped in water, not goat’s blood).

I find both of these photos, and more importantly the act that these photographs record, to be not just shocking but inhuman. As we have said at Pakistaniat many times before, obvious Jahalat and inhumanity can never be justified in the name of tradition or culture (here, here and here). No matter how old or deep the tradition might be!

Photo Credits: Mohsin Naseer of Associated Press of Pakistan. Clicking on photos above will take you to their parent website and larger image sizes.

28 Comments on “Innocent?… Then Walk on the Burning Coal!”

  1. Zia Ahmed says:
    January 19th, 2009 11:28 pm

    So Sad! – Heart filled with sorrow after reading this blog post, Owais Mughal shb i must appreciate your effort to point our such violence happening in our country.
    But its main reason is that government cannot influence its own low-n-order in such tribal areas as they people claim to be the owner of these areas. to enforce Pakistan’s law in those areas government and army will have to struggle so much. But because we dont know what exactly was the thing that caused this person to be punished this way… we cannot say anything. Might be this man were a victim of some serious crime – that seniors of his tribe thought this punishment the right one for him.

    Secondly Owais sahab I must appreciate your way of writing, I really like your style. So Nice.

  2. January 20th, 2009 12:08 am

    This is just pure inhumanity. And as you say, this is not the only recent incident. Just two weeks ago there was a long story in Daily Times about how this practice is growing (or at least being reported more).

    The report also mentioned that Charbeli, “practice of forcing alleged criminals to walk on burning coal is locally known, appears to supersede the criminal justice system and the state

  3. Adil Najam says:
    January 20th, 2009 12:19 am

    Frankly, I am still reeling just reading these horrendous reports. I think those who would just stand there and watch these also need to be punished. And certainly it is most shameful that the provincial Minister for HUMAN RIGHTS seems to be defending this practice. Just how jahil does one have to be to become a Minister today!

    P.S. I am also torn about what the role of a good journalist should be in such a situation? (By the way, part of the new The News story seems to be just lifted from the earlier Daily Times story (even though the two are by different authors; Muhammad Ejaz Khan and Malik Siraj Akbar, respectively.).

  4. Arjun says:
    January 20th, 2009 12:21 am

    Hope education spreads throughout the subcontinent so it becomes free from such superstitions. I think law-and-order isn’t the problem, it’s superstition that makes people and village councils believe such stuff – that walking on coal without burn marks proves your innocence or guilt.

  5. Hafsa says:
    January 20th, 2009 12:39 am

    Why do you have to always highlight these negative stories about Pakistan?

    This happens only in few remote places and not all over Pakistan. And this has nothing to do with Islam.

  6. BUNTY says:
    January 20th, 2009 1:30 am

    Sheer Height of Stupidity of so called Tribal Customs at its best!! This is actually what happens when there is a vacuum of a Judicial System!

  7. January 20th, 2009 9:07 am

    You know, there may be some truth to this form of justice. Some of you may know that Tony Robbins used to conduct seminars on Neurolinguistics Programing (NLP), Self development and Success. While his seminar was going on there was a pit of coals getting ready. When the seminar end, all of the audience was expected to walk over the hot coals. In many of his seminars, all of the attendees would walk over hot coals. This is the power of faith and believing. If the person who is ordered to walk on hot coals is innocent and he strongly believes in his innocence and that him being innocent would cause the hot coals not to hurt his feet, then he may walk over them unhurt. If his faith is wavering then…

  8. Saqib Ali says:
    January 20th, 2009 9:45 am

    This is a traversty of all that is decent and human.

    The people who do this, and I think also those who just stand and watch, should be tried and punished by the very laws that they are ignoring and taking into their own hands.

  9. January 20th, 2009 11:07 am

    Dear Owais Mughal,
    I am glad you keep an eye on these important social issues. One thing that I had previously mentioned in my story published in Daily Times on January 7, 2009 while quoting a scholar seems to come true. He had predicated this practice was rapidly becoming urbanized. This is the first time we see such practice of charbali in Mastung which is a few kilometers away from the provincial capital, Quetta.
    There is no justification for such acts. These practices need to be highlighted and condemned in the media so that people come to know about them.

  10. Anwar says:
    January 20th, 2009 1:14 pm

    Unfortunate. The only way out is the education, social uplift and improvements in the quality of life.

  11. Zecchetti says:
    January 20th, 2009 1:31 pm

    Or maybe it’s some crazy mystical sufi practice. Sufis are notorious for doing crazy stuff like this with the excuse of “finding Allah”.

    Jahaliat indeed.

  12. Ismail says:
    January 20th, 2009 1:48 pm

    No Zecchetti,there is nothing Islamic or Sufi about this. People like you just find any excuse to give Islam a bad name. Shame on you. This is just barbaric and has nothing to do with Islam. Ignorant jahils in every religion incorporate their stupidity in the name of religion but that does not mean the religion says so. People like you just use that to bring a bad name to Islam. You guys are equally jahil for doing so.

  13. January 20th, 2009 2:44 pm

    Muqaam-e-afsos hai. Magar ye qataii hairat-angez nahiiN.
    barr-e-saGhiir ke mukhtalif ilaaqe aaj bhi daur-e-jaahiliyat meN haiN.

    Kaash ki naujawaanan-e-Pakistan, is simt tavajjoh deN taaki aisii vaahiyaat rusuumaat ka mutlaq vujuud is khittay meN na rahe.

    Hindustan mein aisa nazaara to nahiiN dekhaa jaata magar vastii riyaasatoN meN ‘jaadu-tone’ ke naam par khwaatiin ke saath intehaaii bihimaana suluuk aaj bhii hotaa hai.

  14. bonobashi says:
    January 20th, 2009 6:19 pm

    @Indian Muslim

    I’m afraid that isn’t strictly accurate (this answer is suspect due to my inability to read the rather stiff Urdu you’ve used; next time I’ll put up my answer in Gurkhali or Tamil).

    First, fire-walking exists in the South of India as a religious practice. Admittedly, and happily, it doesn’t exist as a part of ‘trial by ordeal’. Just for the sake of curiousity, fire-walking is prevalent in Sri Lanka as well, also in Malaysia and Singapore, as part of the ritual followed by the Hindu diaspora (strangely, this is practised only in South India/Tamilians, and by descendants of Tamilians in the diaspora). There are NO records of injuries; apparently, a swift walk through, over a firm bed of coals and ashes, avoids any injury. Disclaimer: I haven’t tried to do this, and have no intention of trying it at any time in future either.

    Second, trials by ordeal exist even today, although there are other mechanisms used, I am sad to report. These are: plucking objects out of boiling water or oil, holding hot objects, and the like. Usually to be found in tribal belts, more or less geographically contiguous to the ‘jadu-tona’ and Ojhagiri areas. Jharkhand, typically, sometimes heard of such in backwoods Bihar.

    http://www.1911encyclopedia.org/Fire-walking

    also

    http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/207892/fire-walking

    and one that I’ve seen myself, some three years ago, when I was working in Chennai still

    http://www.india9.com/i9show/Fire-Walking-Festival-%96-Cuddalore-28629.htm

    a pathetic, very sad little reference

    http://www.medbc.com/annals/review/vol_17/num_3/text/vol17n3p124.asp

  15. Jahanzeb says:
    January 21st, 2009 5:50 am

    This is crazy!

    But again this is Pakistan. Full of surprises. Last time they buried alive a few women in the same province. This is part of the same culture. Heritage I say.

  16. Watan Aziz says:
    January 21st, 2009 7:51 am

    The backlog of cases in Supreme Court on 31st December 2008 is 17754.

    Supreme Court of Pakistan disposed of 1044 cases during the month of December 2008 whereas 1701 new cases were instituted.

    Question: At this rate, how may years before the docket is current? Answer: Eternity. The roster grew in December!

    This number is artificially suppressed by non-adjudication at lower courts which in turn may or may not result in appeals to the supreme court. And the number is majorly depressed, by not registering the FIR or accepting court filings on various technicalities.

    When the medicine doctor is not available, the witch doctor takes over!

    All of you who are mad at this story, what alternative do you offer to this man?

  17. tinwoman says:
    January 21st, 2009 8:42 am

    I’m worried a little bit less about the injustice of the practice to the accused than I am about the fact that this silly display may well be letting child murderers and rapists off the hook (if the men are guilty of the crimes they are charged with).

    Obviously this isn’t much of a substitute for a real trial.

  18. NIhari says:
    January 21st, 2009 9:55 am

    This is such good practice. IN fact, all our leaders (civilian, judges, ex pms and in uniform) should publicly walk on it every month to prove their innocence.

  19. Umar Shah says:
    January 21st, 2009 11:44 am

    Qanoon ka Danda enforce karnay ki deyr hai. All those who say ‘no one’ can change our traditions should be thrown into the sea literally. Brute force knocks sense into the most extreme jihadi also, yeh to phir local badmaash hain. Aur nation? kaunsi nation? after 60+ years we’re still Baluchis, Sindhis, Punjabis, Pathans and what not following our own ‘traditions’ that ‘no one can change’. Nationhood is instilled and indoctrinated in minds of children and shown to them by example by their elders. We as a people have failed on both those accounts. Jab ‘aika’ nahi to Qanoon kaunsa aur kis mulk ka maanein? Pakistan is just a name on our currency and bahana to get emotional and sing idealistic patriotic songs.

  20. Watan Aziz says:
    January 22nd, 2009 12:00 am

    It is these kind of

  21. DL says:
    January 22nd, 2009 4:51 am

    @Watan Aziz

    Interesting information. This explains why this exercise is so popular among motivational speakers. It looks very intimidating, but since it doesn’t usually lead to burns, it can help people in rising above their fears.

    Having said that, it doesn’t detract from the fact that this is in fact a primitive — no, rather absurd — form of justice. How can you expect to differentiate right from wrong from such an exercise? What about the many people falsely accused and wrongly relieved by such a system?

    It might not be as barbaric or as brutal as might strike one on the first glance, but it sure is a mockery in the face of more civilized and evolved forms of justice.

  22. Shaista says:
    January 24th, 2009 5:06 am

    why the people of the area let it happen? the practice is still alive becuse:
    1-people are not aware of “Judicial System”
    or
    2- they do not trust in “Judicial System”
    or
    3-there is no Judicial system

    the people who stand by the side and only watch are the true reflection of majority of Pakistanis who are indifferent, selfish and jahil. But who will educate them? the ministers? who term such practices as their traditions or those who give the decision of giving girls as “Badal e Haasil” in Jirga?
    People have to start using their minds themselves and asses what is wrong and what is right. otherwise it is a good punishment for not using their rationality….it is their own choice…

  23. shaista says:
    January 24th, 2009 5:18 am

    why the people of the area let it happen? the practice is still alive because:
    1-people are not aware of “Judicial System”
    or
    2- they do not trust in “Judicial System”
    or
    3-there is no Judicial system

    the people who stand by the side and only watch are the true reflection of majority of Pakistanis who are indifferent, selfish and jahil. But who will educate them? The ministers? who term such practices as their traditions or those who give the decision of giving girls as “Badal e Haasil” in Jirga?
    People have to start using their minds themselves and asses what is wrong and what is right. Otherwise it is a good punishment for not using their rationality….it is their own choice…

  24. Bilal Khan says:
    January 26th, 2009 6:20 am

    I basically do not think that disproves anything and I agree hundred and 110% with DL. what are receiving from this nothing doesn’t prove anything it is only a matter which illiterate people believe in.

    Such practices should be stopped where ever they are being performed. As they would probably lead to more injustice that the already suffer from.

  25. Watan Aziz says:
    March 7th, 2009 8:43 pm

    An Open “English Language” Contest

    (i) No application for adjournment through fax will be placed before the Court. If the counsel is unable to appear for any reason the Advocate-on-Record will be required to argue the case.

    (ii) No Adjournment on any ground will be granted.

    The above is from FINAL CAUSE LIST No. 15 OF 2009

    How many gramatical mistakes can you find?

    Note: Only children in the primary schools can participate. All others are expected to know the answers! (Unless of course, they work for the Supreme Court of Pakistan.)

    (Yes, I know this is below the belt. But then some of the thugs with “contempt of court” abusive powers are accustomed to giving it to the people of Pakistan; below the belt; too often.)

  26. Watan Aziz says:
    March 7th, 2009 9:11 pm

    ATP Congratulations!

    There is now ** no ** backlog of cases before the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The link has disappeared from the Court’s website.

    (Is someone reading these posts and ……)

    The backlog of cases in Supreme Court on 31st December 2008 was 17,754. *The number in the lower courts remains unknown. *The number of cases not docketed either due to technicalities in petition or non-entertainment of FIR will always remain unknown. *Yet more, the number of people who opt to walk on coals (both literally and figuratively) rather than even consider seeking justice will never be known.

    This is denial of justice, denial of justice, denial of justice.

    Did I say it enough times?

    Not enough !

  27. Owais Mughal says:
    March 24th, 2009 11:13 pm

    from today’s Jang. the ‘jahaalat’ continues

  28. jan says:
    March 24th, 2010 9:54 am

    is se bare to mare mucheen hain

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