By AADIL REHMAN
The 11th day of February 2018 will be remembered forever, for the Human rights champion and social activist Asma Jilani Jahangir of Pakistan left for the heavenly abode at the age of 66 due to a cardiac arrest. Her death has saddened the whole world and has left millions of her well wishers in mourning. Asma Jahangir is a name which has over the past many years carved its own corner in the hearts of millions not only in Pakistan but all over the world. She was the hope for the hopeless, and a voice for the the voiceless.
The doughty woman was a strong advocate of democracy. “Right from her childhood, she backed the democratic process which is evident from the fact that she was always selected by the Nuns as Head girl of the school in Lahore but she protested and demanded that there should be at least an apparent election providing equal opportunity to all. The school administration agreed to the demand while retaining the veto power (The Herald).”
Ms Jahangir was a ray of hope for the people who could not afford to fight a legal battle for their own rights. She was all there to provide them with free legal aid. She founded the Pakistan’s first all women law firm along with other three women namely Shehla zia, Hina jilani (sister) and Gulrukh and named it “AGHS”, taking first letters from their names. She strongly fought for the rights of women.
Ms Jahangir was the woman with a golden heart. She, in early 1980s, in support of political prisoners, decided to setup a trust with the help of her father Malik Ghulam Jilani wherein they pooled their own money for its establishment and named it after her father. Asma Jahangir was its first secretary and the trust consisted of senior lawyers, journalists and activists as its trustees. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) founded in 1986 which presently has voice and reach, both nationally and internationally owes its existence to the tireless efforts of the departed soul. Being the Co-founder of HRCP, she had also served the same as its Secretary-General and Chairperson in the past. She had the distinction of being the first woman to serve as the President of Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan.
Ms Jahangir was a fearless lady. She never compromised with her principles and discharged her duties with utmost honesty and faithfulness. She stood tall even during the times when her own fellow nationals were against her. On one such occasion , in March 2008, a picture of her during meeting with Bal Thackeray (founder of Shiv Sena) created a virtual storm in the media circles of Pakistan denouncing her move to share the same space with him. But she overcame the same, and made it clear that she only met Thackeray in her capacity as The United Nations Special rapporteur on Freedom of Religion, investigating violence against Muslims in India. She was also the UN’s Special rapporteur on Human Rights in Iran.
Ms Jahangir always spoke for the rights of marginalized and minorities. She always believed in cultural diversity. In her own words, “cultural diversity makes human rights even richer. It is part of human rights to actually respect cultural diversity, to encourage it. But cultural diversity does not mean inhuman treatment of other human beings”. Moreover, she craved for a society, where life is valued and freedom is guaranteed. She once said “everyone is entitled to a dignified life and no society can advance unless the individuals within it are free from fear and can at least enjoy basic political rights”. Ms Jahangir was conferred numerous awards during her life time in recognition of her exemplary services to humanity. Besides the Ramon Magsaysay award, she was honored with Hilal-i-Imtiaz; the second highest civilian award and honour given by the Government of Pakistan-in 2010. And, in 2014, she was conferred The Right Livelihood Award (alternate Nobel Prize) in recognition “for defending, protecting and promoting human rights in Pakistan and more widely, often in very difficult and complex situations and at great personal risk”. Her life is reflection of bravery, truthfulness and just struggle. Carrying forward her mission of serving the humanity will be an ultimate Tribute to her. May her soul rest in Peace!
—The author is an Assistant Professor of Commerce at the Government Degree College, Tral. He can be reached at: [email protected]