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:

    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.)

  2. Bilal Khan says:

    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.

  3. shaista says:

    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…

  4. Shaista says:

    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…

  5. DL says:

    @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.

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