Our neighbour Pakistan has lost Asma Jahangir. Everyone, including the citizens of Pakistan and human rights organisations, are appalled and distraught. Religious radicals and terrorist groups are relieved as the voice against them has been silenced forever.
No politicians from India made any statement or showed any sympathy. She was termed ‘India’s agent’ when she spoke up for a Hindu income tax officer. She retained her self-esteem and pride till her last breath. Women took part in large numbers in the burial ceremony. As we know, in Pakistan, women are not allowed in the burial ceremony. During her life, she visited many burial ceremonies of other human rights fighters. No one dared to stop the women who’d turned up for her burial.
Asma Jahangir was born in 1952 in Lahore, the second-most important city of the newly-created country of Pakistan. Her father was a human rights and political activist. As a child, she quickly learned about her country’s limitations on basic civil liberties; her father was put under house arrest for criticising the first Bhutto regime in 1972. At the age of 18 she filed her first petition, which demanded that her father be released from jail after he criticised the country’s war in Bangladesh.
Once she had to fight a human rights violations case in the Supreme Court. The matter concerned brick factory labourers. She took those labourers to the court room too, in order to show the conditions they had to suffer. But the judge rebuked her for bringing people who stank inside the court premises. Her fierce arguments made them realise that these “labourers with hardly any clothes on their bodies owed debts of hundreds of thousands of rupees.”
To radical Islamists, she said, “If you people continue to base your politics on religious grounds then, understand that you are playing with fire and you’ll eventually get burnt.”
Asma Jahangir will always be remembered as the human rights icon from Pakistan.