“(My father) remained in jail in Bannu. He remained in jail in Multan. But we were not allowed to go see him there…we always saw him in courts. So, for me, the court was a place where you dressed up to meet your father. It had a very nice feeling to it.” – Asma Jahangir
We lost the distinguished lawyer and human rights activist Asma Jahangir on February 11, 2018. She left us at the age of 66, which is not at all old. I had read about her when I was a little girl. My parents spoke of her at our home. I was always fascinated by her courage, and my parents always inspired me to be like her.
Do we really need to introduce her? I guess not. But let me write a few words so that the readers can know who she was and whom we have lost.
She was born in Lahore to an activist father, Malik Ghulam Jilani, and an equally fearless mother who, back in that era, fought the patriarchal society and carried on with her education. As I said before I will not write about who she was, which all of us can find out through our search engines, but will write a letter to this misogynistic society on why we need to follow her lead and walk with our heads held high.
Do you know we are no longer scared of getting raped and molested? You all killed Jyoti Singh (Nirbhaya) by brutally raping her, but what you couldn’t kill is our gallantry. Hey, society: there is something else as well. Did you hear about Mukhtar Mai? Well, she is a survivor of gang rape and she is from Pakistan – Asma Jahangir’s country. It was Asma who provided her emotional support and taught her courage when society wanted her to die or commit suicide, as she was raped.
Just so you know, Muktar Mai stated on Geo.Tv that she called Asma ‘Bari baji’, and Jahangir addressed her as ‘Mukhtaran’. During their meeting at Jahangir’s office, Jahangir listened to her story and told her “Well done.” Mukhtaran recalls Jahangir telling her, “Pakistan needs more women like you. You are very brave […] Don’t be silent. We cannot be silent.”
When Mukhtaran was put under house arrest, Bari Baji would call her every day, for 12 days consecutively, to convince her to be strong. Bari Baji was the one who convinced Aitzaz Ahsan to represent Mukhtaran in the Supreme Court. In 2011, the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of the five accused in Mukhtaran’s rape case, leaving Mukhtaran shattered. But Asma baji stood beside her like a pillar, called her, and told her again to be brave. Mukhtaran further says that Asma the fearless had raised her voice whenever there had been an issue in Pakistan. She was the one who always shouted for justice.
Tell me, society: aren’t you done with your injustice on women and minorities? Jahangir had the guts in her to raise her voice against the women suffering in silence, as well as Christians who are minorities in her country, Pakistan. You were the ones who jailed her and her father several times just because they opposed those dictators and military rulers. Now that she is gone, people are scared about how they are going to survive without her. Now do you understand the meaning of women empowerment?
Spunky as she was, Asma alone opposed the Hudood Law which was imposed by the dictator Zia-ul-Haque. Those who aren’t aware of what that is, know that it consists of punishments such as flagellation, cleaving, stoning to death and a lot more heinous retributions. Surprisingly, the masculine gender lacked the nerve to handle human rights, and she alone raised her voice against these practices and those dictators. Patriarchal society, come on, show your guts.
Malala Yousafzai tweeted that she is heartbroken at the loss of Asma Jahangir – a saviour of democracy and human rights. According to Firstpost, Asma found herself opposing two martial rulers: Zia and Musharraf. She spearheaded every difficult moment in Pakistan, opposing the oppressors. She stood up for women and minorities, she spoke of peace with India, and against military intervention in the democratic process. These were considered criminal offences, and she, along with other women activists, was jailed in 1983 for opposing proposed rape laws that gave more weight to a man’s testimony over a woman’s. She was put under house arrest in 2007 by General Parvez Musharraf post Emergency.
One more fact for you to know: she, during events like the Mumbai attacks and the 2007 Samjhauta Express bombing, supported the Indian stance and rejected the Pakistani stance. She blamed ISI for these attacks. Even when it was alleged that an Indian Colonel, Prasad Shrikant Purohit, and the Hindu extremist organization Abhinav Bharat were behind these attacks, Asma Jahangir, as usual, rejected the facts and continue to blame Pakistan. Do you have grit like her?
Now she is dead. Her heart couldn’t take any more stress and she died of cardiac arrest. I have blustered enough about her, but I have a message to society, and here it is. Learn a lesson from her. Now the whole world is grieving her loss, but I would have been happier if they had supported her all along when she practised as a lawyer and spoke on human rights and child welfare.
Raise a valiant girl child like Asma. Parents of boys, teach your sons to respect women and not see them as objects of lust. And to all women, do not remain a victim of any form of abuse hurled at you, be it physical, be it mental. Be brave and fight your own battles. People will shed tears at her funeral, but people, be like her. Do not cry. She is a martyr, and she deserves salutations. I have ranted enough and I do not wish to write anymore.
I would like to conclude this essay with the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.”
To everyone: I am writing this letter on behalf of Asma Jahangir. You have come alone, you will go alone. So fight for your rights alone. Trust me, no one will help you. The journey is long, lonely, and also tiring, but it can turn you into a hero, and also you will lead as an example to mankind. So do that. Leave a lasting impression as an inspiration like Asma Jahangir. Salute to the braveheart!