By Minerwa Tahir
KARACHI: If you are born and raised in Pakistan and have even an iota of political awareness, you are most likely to suffer from depression. Asking for your basic human rights is a struggle in itself. However, for people like me who have been raised during the dictatorship of General Musharraf, there was an example that we could look up to and emulate. It was Asma Jahangir.
While most people in this country prefer an attitude of saving one’s own skin, Asma gave us an alternative. In our country, alternatives are demonized and most of us do not even have a basic knowledge of how to have civil debates. We lack the tolerance to hear a differing viewpoint. In such a suffocating environment, it was Asma who gave us hope – the hope to rise and fight back. The hope to claim our space when it is shrinking day by day and an awareness of our right to do so. Moreover, she gave us awareness and hope of waging a war for achieving equal rights for all irrespective of our professions. She was a lawyer. She could just fight her cases, make her money and go back home. Instead, she dedicated her life and profession to a cause. It is a woman who lived through the Zia era and set an example for the generation raised in Musharraf’s era. She fought for her father who was imprisoned for his criticism of the military action in what is now Bangladesh.
As a vocal critic of the establishment, Asma has had many enemies. The large number of her enemies was indeed a testimony of her devotion to upholding the truth. Her courage and bravery in the face of matched that of no man. Be it women and children, marginalized ethnicities or oppressed religions, you would find Asma at the forefront of their cause. Like her or not, Asma “has towered over Pakistan’s human rights war” as Declan Walsh wrote.
Moreover, Asma was a hope for the women in a country where it’s never easy being a woman. In the face of misogyny and sexism deeply rooted in our society, she earned numerous credits to her name. She founded the AGHS Legal Aid Cell with her sister Hina Jilani to help women in distress. She then went on to help form the Women’s Action Forum (WAF). She fought against the Hudood Ordinances. She fought cases of Muslim women when the court ruled they could not marry of their free will without a male guardian’s consent. She fought the cases that no one would take up. She proved to all of us women that our gender can never be a hindrance in the way of our dreams. Let me ask you, is there a single male lawyer in the country who would take up the MQM chief’s media blackout case? Asma did so despite knowing the dangers associated with the case. Asma braved various kinds of allegations, which are the same for anyone who speaks for human rights in Pakistan – “RAW ki agent”, “Indian funding”, “Yahoodi agent”, “Qadiyani agent”, and the list goes on.
As she has died today, there are many who are remembering her selfless devotion to the cause of human rights. There will never be as perfect an example as Asma for our generation to look up to.
Asma, you were our comandante. And even though you have fallen, your legacy is here to shine. May you rest in power.