For umpteen Pakistanis who looked to Asma Jahangir to help them obtain justice, and for peacemongers and human rights activists around the world, Sunday 11 February 2018 was a sad day.
Several events have been organised for her in Pakistan and elsewhere. I was present at the well-attended event titled “Celebrating Asma Jahangir”, organised by human rights lawyers, peacemongers and friends of Asma at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi last Thursday, 15 February 2018.
As I sat down to write about it, I read a Facebook post by fellow peacemonger and educator Tulika Bathija who shared a video tribute to Asma Jahangir:
“Asma Jahangir was a rock star. Her undying spirit keeps my hope alive for my friend, Raza Khan… To honor her memory, to keep her alive in our hearts, we must not forget about him”.
She was referring to Raza Khan, a peace activist from Lahore who has been missing for more than two months, since Dec. 2, 2017. Jahangir was the counsel in the petition that had been filed in the Lahore High Court by his family.
Former additional solicitor general, well-known lawyer, human rights activist Indira Jaisingh shared her memories of her colleague from across the border. “Asma taught us about bonding as South Asians”, she said emotionally. Co-founder of Lawyers Collective, an NGO that focuses on women’s rights and issues, Jaisingh said she sought inspiration from Asma’s life and vowed to redouble her own efforts in taking on government institutions and combating human rights violations in India.
Tapan Kumar Bose, Secretary General, South Asia Forum for Human Rights, shared his story of meeting Asma for the first time in an official event in Vietnam in early 1990s where he and Asma were members of the Indian and Pakistani delegations respectively. After the customary allegations and counter allegations about Kashmir during the event, members of the two delegations met for dinner.
Bose recounted how everyone felt terrible after the juvenile exchange of hostility at the official event. After the initial exchange of pleasantries, Asma said to the group, “We can’t allow bureaucrats, politicians and generals continue this hatred”. She partnered with those present in that meeting and many who weren’t. This interaction led to the creation of the Pakistan India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy (PIPFPD), the largest people-to-people group in South Asia.
Co-founder of Aaghaz e Dosti, another group of India Pakistan peacemongers Ravi Nitesh, the shared a beautiful poem he had written for Asma Jahangir. Although he never met her personally, her work and her life inspired him and continues to do so.
Speaker after emotional speaker shared how Asma was a role model for them their own lives as they worked for peace and human rights.
At the end of the evening, Vijayan M. J., General Secretary PIPFPD India, read out a pledge on behalf of those gathered there:
We, friends of Asma Jahangir, an icon of rights and resistance in South Asia, assembled at the memorial meeting on 15th Feb 2018, to remember and celebrate her life, pledge that:
- We will carry forward the struggle for people’s rights, across borders, to unite people, and pave the way for peace, democracy, dignity of life and human rights
- We will continue our battle against the divisive, authoritarian, communal and patriarchal forces in society that deny women, the historically oppressed people and discriminated groups their rights to life, livelihood and dignity
- We will oppose fundamentalist forces, communal and casteist, and take guard against all forms of violence
- We will unite the people of South Asia in this struggle against war, militarisation and jingoism and forge towards justice, peace and democracy.
“Agar visa ka lafda naheen hota to sainkadon log India say Lahore gaye hotay do din pahlay” (If the visa issue wasn’t there, scores of people from India would have gone to Lahore two days ago [for the funeral]), commented feminist activist Kamla Bhasin.
Asma Jahangir’s extraordinary life is well documented in the uncountable tributes and stories people have written and shared both online and in news media around the world. What struck me that day was how so many people in India shared a very personal bond with her. It was as if she managed to have a nurturing relationship with a very large number of people. I was amazed at how many expressed their sense of personal bereavement.
Asma, you were truly a rock star. Besides all the work you did in your chosen field, you live in the hearts of millions of people like me who aspire to make a difference in the world. Your ability to “speak truth to power” is well known. I am inspired by your ability to inspire, to lead, to nurture and to create bonds that last a lifetime and beyond.
Farewell Asma. May you continue to inspire us for generations.
Samir Gupta is an IT professional and peacemonger based in Ghaziabad, India. Email: [email protected]