A mere day have passed to the death of the imminent lawyer and fearless lawyer Asma Jahangir whose departure has come at a time when Pakistan needed her the most.
The fragile human rights situation in our homeland needs as many advocates as it can get. And who better than Ms. Jahangir, whose stood stall and unwavering since late 1970s and stared down many a military dictator, the mullas, the curropt politicians and the fanatics.
Her loss is not only the loss of Pakistan alone but the whole of South Asia for she understood well the regional socio-political context and continued advocating the use of diplomacy for resolving the political conflicts affecting the lives of millions who call Pakistan, India, Afghanistan their homes.
Her list of accomplishments continued over the years, as Asma Jahangir remained consistent in her raison d'être supporting bravely the rights of girls and women victims of honor crimes, defending the so called 'infidels' denounced religious extremism and discrimination against Pakistani minorities.
A progressive Muslim, Jahangir defended rights of Christians and other minorities and as a lawyer took up several cases in defense of minorities. Every time blasphemy issues came to forefront, she didn’t shy away and risked her life in protecting minorities under the problematic blasphemy laws introduced by colonists and institutionalized under military dictators.
If that was not enough, she also pressed for 'legal reforms' for protection of bonded laborers' who spent their lives trapped by debt to owners of brick kilns, textile and agricultural industry. She also brought to light the issue of child labor and lobbied for enforcement of child protection laws against abuses.
Moreover, in representing bonded laborer’s and standing up for their rights, she fought against institutionalized slavery and took the wrath of feudal, religious zealots and the lot as it came. And despite being targeted by several attacks inside her own country, this Iron Lady refused to allow these tactics to silence her work.
In an interview with Herald magazine that in any case angered her countless critics she stated that, “Yes, I am very unhappy, extremely anguished at human rights violations against Kashmiris in India or against Rohingya’s in Burma or, for that matter, Christians in Orissa. But obviously, I am going to be more concerned of violations taking place in my own house because I am closer to the people who I live with. I have more passion for them."
A long-serving UN special rapporteur on human rights, she was vocal on not only local but global situation and denounced human rights abuses wherever she found them. For her own country, what worried her most was the fact that religiosity is suffocating in Pakistan as it invariably stokes the fire in driving society to religious extremism. Today we are where we are because of this unhealthy obsession.
The most unfair allegations she was labelled with include being deemed a 'traitor', 'Indian spy' and 'American agent' all because she chooses to speak for human rights, in favor of 'women protection' and 'rights of Non-Muslims.' Her work was criticized and debated within the country with a consensus that by highlighting these issues openly she was responsible for giving a bad name to Pakistan on a global scale. Whereas truth be told, Pakistan's record on women and minorities is alone enough to produce crying worthy embarrassment for thousands of its own citizens who believe in human rights and equality for all social classes and genders.
People had strange logic for being against Asma Jahangir, our society is full of misogynists so majority men for that matter just stomach the fact of being faced with an educated and extremely intelligent woman calling them out on their many nonsensical attitudes.
In her death, we have become orphaned but such is her legacy that an Asma Jahangir lives inside every Pakistani who believes in humanity, in peace and reason as opposed to violence, war and religious oppression. Let us pledge to continue her mission and raising the voice for the rights of marginalized, the poor, and disfranchised within our society!