Asma Jehangir versus Indian Liberals: A Study in Contrasts

Asma Jehangir versus Indian Liberals: A Study in Contrasts
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By Dr. Ishfaq Jamal

Asma Jehangir, a leading human rights activist and lawyer of Pakistan, and a well known face throughout the world, died last month at the age of 68. Known for her determination, principles and courage all her life, she stood firm on her principles and fought for the rights of the oppressed, vulnerable and religious minorities in Pakistan. Jehangir’s principled positions on various issues always kept her in the limelight and she stood as a thorn in the eyes of many. Her death has been condoled far and wide by people belonging to all walks of life. From the UN Secretary General to many other eminent figures and leading personalities of world, all shared their grief over her demise.
Rather than writing an obituary, I will dwell on a separate thread of Jehangir’s life, that is, her courageous stand on Balochistan and draw a parallel between the stand of the Indian liberal class on the Kashmir issue. Since, she was revered by most of the liberal class of India and considered as a role model, I would try to draw a parallel between her role in Baluchistan and the Indian liberal intellectuals’ role in Kashmir. Though the Kashmir and Baluchistan conflicts are not exactly the same when it comes to their genesis and complexities but what matches them is the human rights violations, killings, forced disappearances and so on.
On Asma Jehangir’s death, the former Balochistan Chief Minister, Sardar Akhtar Mengal, tweeted: “Balochistan is forever in your debt.” And, truly they are indebted as she was a champion and defender of human rights of the Baloch people. Jehangir bravely called a spade a spade and openly criticized the Pakistan army for its approach in Balochistan. She confronted the powerful elements in government by speaking the truth about the ground realities in Balochistan. Asma Jehangir continued visiting Balochistan from time to time and listened to the perspectives of the local people, produced neutral and professionally researched reports about the ground situation in Balochistan.
Jehangir was also vociferous in her denunciations of MQM militancy and violence in Karachi and other parts of urban Sindh, and other forms of extremism. She was also emphatic in her criticism of vicious state action against the MQM and tribals and insisted on solving all the issues through peaceful means.
Today, when most of the Indian liberal intellectuals write obituaries about Asma Jehangir, their double standards are glaringly and hypocritically obvious to me, as a Kashmiri. They praise Asma Jehangir for her courage, her all out stand against establishment for human rights violations but, in India, where they enjoy a relatively more liberal and democratic environment, they have never been as vocal as Jehangir when it comes to the condition of human rights in Kashmir. Indian writers and intellectuals when felt an attack on principles of secular democracy, in recent times, were much vociferous in defending India and their stand on campaigns like award wapsi, not in my name, and so on, had an ample impact on the ground level.
But, when it comes to Kashmir, the liberal class of India often appears as evasive as its Chinese peers on Tibet. On issues of significance, the stand of the Indian liberal on Kashmir is the same as that of a jingoist nationalist. Considering Kashmir as an unbreakable part of India, and making false analogies of the thousands of killings to a few dozen unfortunate killings of our Kashmiri Pandit brethren, they too are complicit in the state’s narrative and approach.
Asma Jehangir always vehemently challenged the establishment in Pakistan, especially its approach in Baluchistan but we don’t find anyone here in India even having a clear cut stand against the likes of Major Gogoi or Major Aditiya, let alone other insalubrious acts of either omission or commission. (Perhaps they feared online trolls, a far lesser threat than the assassination bids that were made or planned against Asma Jehangir)
When it comes to principles, one needs to stand firmly on these without shifting sides. The adherents of liberal intellectual principles would never justify the state’s approach in Kashmir in the name of patriotism or whatsoever.

—The author is a Kashmir based columnist and socio-political analyst. He can be reached at:

2 Responses to "Asma Jehangir versus Indian Liberals: A Study in Contrasts"

  1. Mukhtar   March 9, 2018 at 11:55 pm

    Why the Kashmiri call for attention to Human Rights Violation won’t succeed:
    1. Unlike in Pakistan where the fundamentalist & nationalist groups don’t have a clue of what is going on in Pakhtunkhwa or Baluchistan. a far-right thinker like myself very well understands the nature of human rights violations prevalent in Kashmir and sometimes I may have sympathy too.
    2. In the case of Baluchistan & Pakhtunkhwa, the oppression through State agencies were prevalent since the partition. In the case of Kashmir while there were grievances, violence was adopted as a means only in 1989 that too at the instigation & with the support of Pakistan, an eternal enemy & antithesis of India.
    3. By choosing to take sides with Pakistan, the Kashmiris had clearly declared themselves as the enemies of India & Indians. There remains no reason for us to talk about human rights violations on our ‘enemies’.
    “false analogies of the thousands of killings to a few dozen unfortunate killings of our Kashmiri Pandit brethren”
    First, the Kashmiri pandits are not your brethren because if you believed so you wouldn’t have humiliated them & forced them out of their birthland. Second, you hated Pandits because they were not muslims & they were more succesful than muslims, which unfortunately is the case elsewhere in India or other parts of the world too.
    Third, when millions of Hindus are being forced out of their homelands in Pakistan & Bangladesh, it is but natural for the Hindus to seek reprisal on Muslims. Unfortunately, it happened that the Kashmiris were the only muslims on whom we could vent our anger & hatred.
    Finally, no matter what human rights violations take place, no matter which country wants India to back off, the only choice for Kashmiris is to either accept India or leave your land for a country of your choice. The land of Kashmir will never be sacrificed for it is the land of Hindus too. We would never give up anything to please a Muslim, especially a muslim who is also a bitter enemy.

  2. Parantap   March 9, 2018 at 11:15 am

    While you are right in your condemnation of many Indian Liberals in not recognizing the plight of Kashmir, you’ve done so with a faulty comparison, which makes your opinion seem a little less serious.

    1- You compared single individual with a broad characterization of what you deem as “Indian Liberals”.
    2- By the standards through which you are considering Asma Jehangir a liberal, you have many such names in India too, Arundhati Roy to Prashant Bhushan all fall in that category.
    3- Even Pakistan has “liberals” that bat for human rights, except the Balochistan issue.

    My motive is not to misdirect, but simply ask you to be more thorough in your comparisons, and not highlight sensitive issues with broad brush strokes. This is all the fodder for right wing news outlets to twist your arguments.