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Civil society celebrates the life and work of Asma Jahangir

By Zoya Anwer
March 12, 2018

Asma Jahangir’s commitment to different issues singled her out because she believed in now, veteran rights activist IA Rehman said of the first woman to serve as the Supreme Court Bar Association’s president.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) organised an event at a hotel on Sunday to commemorate the various struggles of Asma, who passed away at the age of 66 in Lahore on February 11.

Addressing the event moderated by HRCP Co-chairperson Uzma Noorani, Rehman spoke about the close link between democracy and human rights, emphasising that Asma always fought for both. “I think Asma was well aware of her identity as a woman, and rightly aligned it with her politics.”

He recounted that during General (retd) Pervez Musharraf’s dictatorial rule in 2000, many people who called themselves “progressive” abandoned Asma in her fight for democracy. “Many people who were part of civil society chose to side with Musharraf... However, Asma refused to back down and said she would never bow down before any kind of dictatorship.”

Later, he said, she called representatives from almost all the political parties of the country to bring them together to find political solutions to problems. “...the politics of state have now become methods of torture. Political discourse has been replaced with discourse of fear, which is exactly what Asma battled against.”

Referring to the incident of a UN Refugee Agency representative’s abduction in Balochistan, he recalled that Asma was asked to mediate and that she was able to bring the person back unharmed and without any ransom demand.

“Asma was a very good bridge to Balochistan. There were no Sindhi, Baloch or Pashtun leader who refused to talk to her. I think the state didn’t benefit from this aspect of hers in mediation.”

HRCP Sindh Vice-chairperson Asad Iqbal Butt remembered Asma as perhaps one of the few people who stand up for the rights of everyone from bonded labourers to minorities. “I feel ‘Asma Jahangir’ should now be a describing word because her valour and work is unmatched. She never thought twice when it came to calling anyone out.”

Social activist and writer Abdul Wahid Baloch, who went missing in 2016, advised everyone to raise their children, especially daughters, to be like Asma so we are never short of icons like her.

Sharing his experience of working alongside Asma on the Wage Board Award case, journalist Mazhar Abbas said the country needs Asma now more than ever because the country’s political dynamics are taking a dangerous turn.

Regarding freedom of the press, he said: “If there is an announcement of martial law tomorrow, half of the TV channels would be welcoming it instead of condemning it – such are the times.”

Activist Veeru Kohli appreciated the HRCP’s efforts and said: “I can’t begin to express my reverence for Asma, as she stood by us when no one would. Thanks to her, I and many like me are able to lead lives free of slavery.”

Two other activists alongside her, Manny Bheel and Nawu, also expressed their gratitude and recalled their struggle with Asma. “...I am sure there will be many Asmas who will rise, because she will never die. Her struggle has now made her immortal,” said Nawu.

National Commission for Human Rights Sindh Member Anis Haroon and writer Attiya Dawood recited poems in Asma’s honour, while Sheema Kermani and her dance troupe performed on Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s verses.