Innocent?… Then Walk on the Burning Coal!

Posted on January 19, 2009
Filed Under >Owais Mughal, Law & Justice, Society
28 Comments
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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 responses to “Innocent?… Then Walk on the Burning Coal!”

  1. Watan Aziz says:

    It is these kind of

  2. Umar Shah says:

    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.

  3. NIhari says:

    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.

  4. tinwoman says:

    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.

  5. Watan Aziz says:

    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?

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