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February 13, 2018

Activists vow to keep Asma Jahangir’s mission alive


February 13, 2018


Paying their tributes to the country’s prominent human rights activist and lawyer Asma Jahangir, civil society and rights activists on Monday vowed to not only sustain but also further promote the struggle she initiated for democracy and the rule of law.

Asma, who passed away in Lahore on Sunday after suffering a cardiac arrest, played an effective role in forming the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and the Women’s Action Forum, two notable organisations defending human rights in Pakistan.

Asma not only played an active role in creating these two civil society bodies but also continuously supported them to strengthen their role in upholding fundamental rights and democracy in the country.

National Women’s Day

In a programme observing National Women’s Day at the Arts Council on Monday, prominent rights activists and the event’s organisers dedicated the celebration in Asma’s memory.

They said she had secured a number of victories during her life, from winning freedom for bonded labourers from their “owners” through pioneering litigation to a landmark court case that allowed women to marry of their own free will.

National Commission for Human Rights Sindh Member Anis Haroon said that during Ziaul Haq’s dictatorship, women and minorities were repressed through the Hudood Ordinances and the Evidence Act and a ban was imposed on political parties and civil society organisations.

“Asma was among the few women who protested the black and inhumane laws, and the struggle was later commemorated as National Women’s Day on February 12.”

Sindh Human Rights Commission Chairperson Justice (retd) Majida Razvi recalled the challenge against the structural bars made through the Hudood Ordinances in the Evidence Act in Zia’s era that went totally against the principles of justice to discriminate on the basis of law and created the perception that women were inferior to men.

Chief Minister’s Special Assistant on Women Development Iram Khalid highlighted Asma’s great efforts in making humans, including women, more empowered based on the principle of equality. She paid tribute to Asma as a beacon of hope for the new generation.

“Asma was a brave voice of the oppressed and the voiceless people, including women, minorities and other vulnerable communities, and always stood for their rights and spoke the truth.”

CM’s Adviser on Social Welfare Shamim Mumtaz said that with Benazir Bhutto as prime minister, women had always been the top priority and different programmes had been introduced under her leadership. More informed women can make positive contributions towards empowerment of this vulnerable group, she added.

The event was organised by the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women in collaboration with the Women Development Department and civil society groups, including the Strengthening Participatory Organisation, the Health and Nutrition Development Society and NOW Communities.  

‘Voice for the voiceless’

A large number of political and civil society activists visited the HRCP’s Karachi office to offer their condolences on the demise of Asma, a founding member of and the spokesperson for the rights body.

HRCP Sindh Vice-chairperson Asad Iqbal Butt said Asma had been a voice for the voiceless marginalised sections of society. “She was the strongest woman we had the pleasure of working with. Her demise is a great loss to human rights defenders in the country.”

Later, a large number of political and civil society activists gathered outside the Karachi Press Club to light candles in Asma’s memory and paid tributes to her struggle for the downtrodden segments of society.

In a condolence message to Asma’s family, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research Executive Director Karamat Ali and its staff expressed their profound sorrow and grief.

They paid rich tributes to the lawyer who fought for upholding democratic norms and for provision of fundamental rights to the people of the country.

“Asma fought her entire life against dictators and anti-democratic elements,” said Ali, adding that undemocratic rulers always try to spread fear in society so people do not raise their voice against the rulers’ atrocities. He said she struggled to end this fear from society and gave people a voice.  

Day of mourning

The legal fraternity observed a day of mourning at the Sindh High Court and its subordinate courts on the demise of Asma, who was also a former president of the Supreme Court Bar Association. Work remained suspended at the high court and its subordinate courts, as the legal fraternity remembered Asma’s services.

The Karachi Bar Association, the Malir Bar Association and the Sindh Bar Council (SBC) also observed a day of mourning. In their condolence messages, they expressed grief on Asma’s passing away. They condoled with the bereaved family and prayed for strength for the family members, relatives and friends to bear the irreparable loss.