Pakistan's Panchayat Justice: Good Faith Arbitration Or Brutal Tribal Law?

The streets of Lahore, Pakistan (*_*)
The streets of Lahore, Pakistan (*_*)
Nadia Bl�try

MULTAN - Malik Sarfaz, a simple farmer, has been administering justice in his village of Chah Peppal Wala for more than 30 years.

Tucked into a particularly poor and rural corner of southern Punjab in Pakistan, this village is situated more than 10 hours away by car from the capital Islamabad. The man with the wrinkled face is the leader of the panchayat, a form of local self-government. Looking pious in his threadbare traditional shalwar kameez trousers, Sarfaz explains that this system of justice has reigned for as long as he can remember.

"Our traditional justice system is excellent; it rests on the principle of reconciliation," he says. "We're working towards putting an end to violence, whether it is between two people, two families or two clans, which would otherwise worsen without intervention."

Sarfaz explains that panchayat is a "quick and free" form of justice that doesn't require the costs of lawyers and trips into the city.

A common practice across the country, this justice system is, however, illegal and frequently denounced by human rights organizations. "We should be wary of panchayats," says Shaista Bukhari, who manages the Women's Rights Association. "They're not always bad, as they settle conflict in village communities. The problem with the councils is when it comes to the question of honor, which often means that of women. They purport to be democratic, yet women are not authorized to participate and are the first to be subjected to their decisions."

Mukhtar Mai, who lives in Mirwalla, a small town in southern Punjab, knows this form of justice only too well. She is now a broken woman, a victim whose name has been splashed across the media. "When I was sentenced by a panchayat, the leader of the council was particularly close to one of the province's ministers. I belonged to a particularly powerless caste in the village and I was sacrificed," the young woman tells us, her voice expressionless and lifeless.

In 2002, a village council sentenced her to be raped. The cause: a complaint against her brother. The 11 year-old boy was accused of having a relationship with a girl ten years his senior, belonging to the powerful Mastoi caste. To protect the family's honor, Mukhtar Mai was offered to the powerful clan. "I remember, I was stood before the panchayat with my Koran, I wanted to testify in support of my little brother, but the leader of the assembly and the men that surrounded him said: "You see this girl? Take her and do what you want with her." I dropped my Koran. Two men then took me into a house; two other people were there. They raped me and threw me, naked, into the street," she recounts, as her eyes well up with tears.

Mai took her case before the courts, which garnered some international media. However, only one of her aggressors has been found guilty and sentenced. "Clan justice is not only unfavorable to women, but to poor people and to all those who don't have power in the country," she says. "I have never been given justice, not from the panchayats, nor from the State."

Female "compensation"

Malik Sarfraz, who does not know how to read or write, seems, however, to exercise his power all in good faith. On the issue of women, he concedes that sometimes decisions are not in their favor. "Generally, when there are conflicts between two parties, we try to settle them by compensation. We ask the guilty party to pay the affected family by giving them a plot of land," he says. "It is only with those who do not own property or those who don't want to give it up that we are forced to sacrifice a girl, a sister or daughter, in compensation. It helps avoid violence."

All the panchayats of Pakistan are not, however, run by farmers. A number of them are run by local elites, who are often feudal lords, property owners, the educated and the powerful, who benefit from relationships with the higher levels of the State and sometimes have seats in parliament.

"The lack of trust in legal justice, which sometimes takes years to examine cases and involves the complicity of powers-that-be is helping to keep the panchayats around," admits Rehman Rashid, a representative for the Pakistani Human Rights Commission in Multan. "The panchayats are dangerous because they are not accountable to anyone. Therefore, they have an unlimited power and can order the practice of torture and physical abuse."

But the human rights activist insists that a deeper problem is that the feudal lords are participating in this system of clan justice, which doesn't rest on any written code. "By giving their support to the panchayats, or participating in them, the members of parliament are showing that they don't believe in State justice; they're denying legal justice," says Rashid.

In a small police station in Multan, the biggest town of southern Punjab, two women inspectors share a rundown office. They are responsible for community affairs. "In theory, we're here to help villagers to press charges and demand justice, but our task is difficult," says inspector Namreen Munir, who wears her uniform with pride. "The feudal lords do all they can to prevent the farmers from speaking with us. They would rather administer justice themselves, since it allows them to maintain power over the villagers, who are at the same time their workforce and their electorate."

For such state officials, receiving too much attention can mean that the feudal lords who know the superior officers will complain. "At best, we will be transferred, at worst we'll be sacked, adds Munir. "In their eyes, we are nothing and therefore it is impossible to even try to apply justice in Pakistan."

Read the original article in French.

Photo - *_*

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The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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