Badal: An Important Code of Pashtunwali

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The concept of revenge or Badal is one that has captured the imagination of many observers, researchers and investigators. Badal in simple words means, “to seek justice or take revenge against the wrongdoer”. This applies to injustices committed yesterday or 1000 years ago if the wrongdoer still exists. Revenge is mandated in practice by “an accusatory insult, act or condition that offends the Pashtunwali norm”.

Revenge itself is essentially a “show of superior force” which clearly demonstrates to all that the offended man or family is still to be respected and afforded honour. Were badal not to be exercised, the offended group would essentially be demonstrating to the village or tribe that they were not worthy of honour and did not deserve respect in the daily life of the village. In the words of the Pashtuns themselves, “who today is disgraced, tomorrow will be lost.” A true Pakhtun is called Ghairatee (honourable), and the fundamental principal of Ghairat is keeping one’s honour.

Some important stanzas and quotations are given below which describe the concept of Badal in a best way.

“Let the head be gone, wealth be gone but the honour must not go, because the whole of dignity of a man is due to this honour.” (Khushal Khan Khattak)

“Pashtun might be a loving friend or a deadly enemy”. (Ghani Khan)

“Those who cannot protect the honour of others will not be able to keep their own honour.” (Hameed Khan)

“When it comes to the protection of my honour then my rage does not care about benefits and deficits of millions. “(Khushal Khan Khattak)

“To me death is far better than life, if mere living is not with respect and honour”. (Khushal Khan Khattak)

The Pakhtun took revenge after a twenty years and another said that it was taken soon, hurriedly”. (Pashto proverb)

Usually “Badal ends with Badal”, which is usefully translated as “Tit for tat” because it means that an action elicits or demands an equivalent response. It is worth repeating that the Pashto word badal, meaning “exchange” or “reciprocation,” is used in both a positive and a negative sense. When someone owes something to another person, this “debt” is also called badal. That is, there is also badal for gifts or visits, or for bad words, insults, slights or any other action. Nang can only be restored by revenge when damaged, that’s why the father of Pashto poetry has said;

“Unless he takes revenge from his enemy, the real man does not sleep, neither eats, nor takes rest”.

As such, badal is improperly viewed if one conceives of it as retribution; rather it is the re-establishment of the norms of behaviour and interaction between groups within the tribe (individuals, families or tribal sub-sets). It warrants note that the act of badal cannot be excessive and must be proportional to the original offence.

Waseem Ullah Marwat
M.Phil Leading to PhD Political Science Scholar
University of Peshawar