She was special. She was an icon, an apostle of courage, honesty and justice. She was an inspiration. She has faded leaving her mark on the posterity to think beyond self and act on real ground to fight injustice. Asma Jehangir passed away on February 11, 2017 at the age of 66 due to a cardiac arrest in Lahore Pakistan’s top lawyer who was more known as human rights activist. Asma was bold and courageous and she lived her life fighting against authoritarianism and abuse of law by the powerful. She was Pakistan’s symbol of resistance and a human rights activist who spoke against military dictators and abusers of law for the past five decades. She headed the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and remained the Supreme Court Bar Association chairperson. She was also appointed as UN Rapporteur in the region during the 1990s. She remained in jail during the dictatorial rule of General Zia-ul Haq in 1983 for raising her voice for the democrats.
Born and raised in Lahore, Jehangir studied at the Convent of Jesus and Mary before receiving her B.A from Kinnaird and LLB from the Punjab University in 1978. In 1980, Jahangir was called to the Lahore High Court and to the Supreme Court in 1982. In the 1980s, Jahangir became an democracy activist and was imprisoned in 1983 for participating in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy against the military regime of Zia-ul-Haq. In 1986, she moved to Geneva, and became the vice-chair of the Defence for Children International and remained until 1988 when she moved back to Pakistan. In 1987 she co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and became its Secretary General until 1993 when she was elevated as commission’s chairperson. She was again put under house arrest in November 2007 after the imposition of emergency. After serving as one of the leaders of the Lawyers’ Movement, she became Pakistan’s first woman to serve as the President of Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan.She has co-chaired South Asia Forum for Human Rights and was the vice president of International Federation for Human Rights.
Jehangir served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion from August 2004 to July 2010, including serving on the U.N. panel for inquiry into Sri Lankan human rights violations and on a fact-finding mission on Israeli settlements.She won numerous national and international awards for her struggle for the oppressed. The awrds she won include the 2014 Right Livelihood Award (along with Edward Snowden), 2010 Freedom Award, Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2010, Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Ramon Magsaysay Award, 1995 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, and the UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights. She was awarded an Officier de la Légion d’honneur by France. Her prominent writings include The Hudood Ordinance: A Divine Sanction? and Children of a Lesser God.
Condolences poured in as soon as the news of her death came. Condolences poured in from within and outside the country. Leaders of all political parties paid rich tributes to her. Foreign Minister of Pakistan’sForeign Minister Khwaja M Asif said in his tweet, “ What a brave woman.Pakistan poorer without her. People like Asma are anchors of a society.The brave and dedicated daughter of a brave father.After 3 generations of camaraderie between our families,this is a deep personal loss. God bless her soul.” Nobel Prize winner brave girl from Pakistan, Malala, now pursuing her studies in Oxford tweeted, “Heartbroken that we lost Asma Jahangir – a saviour of democracy and human rights.” Former cricketer and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan tweeted, “Asma Jehangir’s death is a loss of a strong voice for the marginalised and oppressed. Despite our differences I always respected her for her fight for human rights and for standing up for her convictions.”Indian actress Nandita Das expressed her condolence saying Deeply shocked & saddened to hear of #AsmaJahangir. She was a true defender of #HumanRights #Democracy & fought till her last breath against authoritarian power, orthodoxy & discriminatn. She was & will remain an inspiration. A huge loss!
The people in power were not very comfortable with Asma Jehangir’s activism. General Musharraf openly expressed his hate for Asma Jehangir for raising her voice against missing persons often picked up by the intelligence agencies and never produced before the courts. She took up cases of dozens of missing persons and fought in the courts for their recovery free of cost. She was a vocal advocate for peace between Pakistan and India. Asma was often criticised by right wingers for her stance towards freedom of speech and against the use of religion to curb progressive voices. Asma also criticised the judiciary for not giving justice to the oppressed and not taking notice of extra judicial killings and abductions.
Asma Jehangir, the Iron Lady of Pakistan has bid adieu. But her voice for freedom and justice would keep on reverberating in the ears of the posterity inspiring and motivating to continue the fight for a freer, just and better world. South Asia is proud of this daughter from Pakistan and she would always remain alive in the minds of people, especially when they need a reason to hope that howsoever difficult it is , the fight for justice and freedom is worth, no matter what it takes!