Rawalpindi buried two amazing men last Friday. It was an unbearably chilly day. The weather reflected what was in our hearts, a sadness that made us shiver inside. For attending funerals, one after another, of two great human rights defenders in times when we are besieged by insanity and fanaticism – out there to sweep clean any remnants of civil and political liberties and human dignity left in this country – was extraordinarily tough. Mehboob Sada, affectionate, warm and a personal friend to so many of us in Rawalpindi and Islamabad was unwavering and resolute when it came to his relentless belief in interfaith harmony and a struggle for the rights of religious minorities in this country and elsewhere. He was serving as the director of the Christian Study Centre for many years and led the centre’s research, training and dialogue programmes with commitment and devotion. In a hostile environment, he fearlessly pursued his ideals of creating a better state and society where citizens are equal in the eyes of the law and people belonging to different faiths and denominations live in peace and harmony. He was close to all progressive individuals, institutions and political groups who aspire and strive for a just, egalitarian and prosperous Pakistan. He worked closely with enlightened Muslim scholars as well, nurturing close personal relationships with people like Dr Khalid Masood, former chair of the Islamic Ideology Council, and Late Dr Farooq Ahmed Khan. He had a penchant for literature, wrote poetry and loved music. Mehboob Sada is one of the richest men I know. For Hazrat Ali (AS) once said that the richness of a man can be established by the number of sincere and trusted friendships he enjoys. St Joseph’s Cathedral saw hundreds of women, men, young people and children, Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Bahais alike, who had gathered to attend the service and bid farewell to Mehboob Sada. He was ill only for a few months and then passed away quietly. We last met at his office in early August 2010, when he had convened a meeting of Christian clergy and community leaders to discuss the impact of blasphemy laws on poor Christians and other minorities. His early departure has impoverished the rights movement. From the Cathedral in Lal Kurti, some of us rushed to the Army Graveyard, near the old Rawalpindi neighbourhood of Westridge, to say the last prayers and witness the burial of a great humanist, an ardent believer in socialist ideals, poet, writer, trade unionist and a leading light in the fight for freedom of expression and speech in Pakistan, Minhaj Barna. He stood firm all along and led both working journalists and press workers through Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists and All Pakistan Newspaper Employees’ Confederation during the most oppressive years of martial rules in Pakistan. He did not surrender his ideals or compromised on his struggle, both for press freedom and for the economic rights of both working journalists and other newspaper employees. He was imprisoned a number of times, even under civilian regimes. Minhaj Barna had moved to Rawalpindi from Karachi in the later years of his life to live with his daughter and her family. His ailing health restricted his movement to an extent. However, I remember my last meeting with the fair skinned, short, old and physically frail but a thoroughly satisfied and optimistic Barna Sahib when Kishwar Naheed organised a dinner in his honour. The real tribute one could pay to both Sada and Barna is to keep their struggles alive.
The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, political analyst and advisor on public policy. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org