Legendary journalist, human rights activist and visionary for South Asia peace I.A. Rehman passes on

Legendary journalist, human rights activist and visionary for South Asia peace I.A. Rehman passes on
I.A. Rehman appreciating a musical moment with S.M.Shahid on harmonium; Dr M. Sarwar and Saleem Asmi. Photo: Dr Haroon Ahmed
I. A. Rehman. File photo.

Dear friend, comrade, fellow fighter and my co- Magsaysay awardee… What can I say… Except that you were exceptional. And it was our great pleasure to have had you in our home in Bhaimala, as also to have hosted you at our Hyderabad home.

We shall miss you brave warrior and true friend of the people on both sides.

We will continue to keep the flag flying

And know that there are many many who will continue to march along the path along which you blazed such a wonderful trail.

Rest in power and in peace Rehman saheb.

Ramu and Lolly

This is former Indian Navy chief Ramu Ramdas and his wife Lalita’s tribute to the legendary I.A. Rehman, shared in a group of Peacemongers that Rehman Sahib was a member of.

Admiral Laxminarayan Ramdas and Ibne Abdur Rehman were joint recipients of the 2004 Ramon Magsaysay Award, known as Asia’s Nobel Peace Prize.

I.A. Rehman presenting a certificate of appreciation to a student at the Aaghaz-e-Dosti India-Pakistan Peace Calendar launch in Lahore, 2018. File photo.

The iconic journalist and crusader for justice, peace, democracy and human rights passed away at his home in Lahore on the morning of April 12, 2021, aged 90. He had no serious illness but had been keeping poorly for some time and was visibly frail at an online interview barely two weeks ago with the youth group Aaghaz-e-Dosti, probably his last public appearance.

Rehman Sahib started out his journalistic career as a film reviewer, and recalls that the first cheque he received for his writing was signed by Faiz Ahmed Faiz, then editor of daily Imroze and Pakistan Times.

He was also a lover of literature, poetry and music, as friends recall.

Tributes from around the region have been pouring in for Rehman Sahib, a founding member of the Pakistan India Peoples’ Forum for Peace and Democracy as well as an integral part of other peace and justice organisations and movements including the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

“It is the rarest of men for whom it can truly be said that their passing away diminishes us each, personally – in the joy, care, generosity and well-being that he brought to every friendship, and politically – in the towering inspiration that he was in all our common struggles against social and economic injustice and violations of the rights of the marginalized”, says PIPFPD in a statement.

The statement notes Rehman Sahib’s “faith and belief in the common people and disregard for power and privilege; and his tireless commitment to building democracy without which there could be no peace”.

Admiral Ramu Ramdas and I.A. Rehman jointly receiving the Ramon Magsaysay award, 2004. File photo

“His quiet humility that made him listen to you, before he took your inchoate words and with a clarity of wisdom lifted our understanding about layered structures of power and mapped the way forward in the struggle for human rights, democracy and peace”.

He was the co-founding visionary, conceptualising the need and possibility of building a people-to-people peace movement between Pakistan and India and indeed South Asia when nuclear war clouds shrouded the subcontinent and the crescendo of war talk silenced any talk of peace. I.A. Rehman dared to work with like-minded believers across hostile borders, to recognise the linkage between strengthening democracy and building peace, to boldly and politically face the conundrum of Kashmir.

“He was the first or among the first in Pakistan to transcend the obscurity of partisan loyalties, and boldly declare with his counterpart in India, the will of the people of Kashmir must prevail to resolve the political problem of Kashmir. It is with great sorrow and a sense of irreplaceable loss that we bid farewell to soul of the peace and democracy movement of Pakistan and India.

“This death, this immense void, this invaluable grief, this jewel of decades of uncompromising writing, standing up against repression, this dare against warmongers– cannot be dissolved in tears. This is a grief we will carry in our hearts forever” says the statement.

A younger member of PIPFPD Vijayan M.J. in a Facebook post from Delhi said that the news of Rehman Sahib’s passing “will take some time to settle down into the brain and mind”.

“Rehman Sab’s demise is something that the peace and democracy movements in Pakistan, India and South Asia will grapple with for months and years to come. For, he individually iconised the values of democracy, human rights, peace and justice”.

Most worthwhile ideas of the South Asian peace movement “were either born in his head” or were a product of discussions with him, says Vijayan.

“Never one to glamorise individual activism, at every stage, Rehman sab would suggest a collective way of taking forward a campaign strategy. Be it the feminist movement, or the peace groups, or the movements for self-determination in South Asia, each one benefitted immensely from the depth, analysis and ideas provided by I A Rehman. Despite his stature as a doyen and iconic human rights defender, he was always accessible and continued to lead a humble and inspiring life.

“There are very few activists who could take humour on their stride as Rehman saheb could. He used personal humour and political satire effectively, both to diffuse situations and attack conservative and regressive powers. Far from being scared or afraid of the powers that be, he always took on authoritarian and fundamentalists forces with a smile on his face.

“Rehman saheb was secretary of the Forum’s Pakistan Chapter, with Dr Mubashir as the Chairperson, two decades back when I came into PIPFPD as a coordinator of the India chapter. Every meeting and interaction was like a dip into a sea of history, knowledge, self-realisations and generational wisdom,” says Vijayan.

I.A. Rehman (right) with Dr Mubashir Hasan at the PIPFPD Convention, Bangalore, 2000. File photo

Vijayan recalls that Rehman Sahib was “probably the oldest person who offered (the junior) me cigarettes, at a time when I was still hesitant to smoke in front of many elders! He was beyond age-ism and many other such biases of his contemporaries. He was also the first Pakistani comrade to call and greet me after I was elected the General Secretary of the Forum in 2018.”

“He found happiness in simple situations and believed that it is humans who create complexities where often none is required! A pillar of strength and courage is lost to many of us, in his passing away.

“You could count on the fact that Rehman saheb will ease and neutralise any crisis situation quickly. With the same ease, he handled elected as well as military governments too. Never one who sympathised with majoritarianism, he believed in the duty of every democracy and elected ruler to be standing with the vulnerable and historically oppressed people.

“Unlike many peace activists who believe peace to be absence of war, Rehman sab knew the political cost of peace and never hesitated to take a pro-people and pro-poor bias in his analysis and positions. His progressive political ideology made him an easy enemy of the Pakistani state and religious fanatics. But that was never a deterrent to him. He had his smile and laughter to his defence and his large number of followers and disciples by his side. Rest in power comrade I A Rehman…

“Saathhi tere sapno ko manzil tak pahunchayenge… (Comrade we will take your vision forward)

“I join my comrades of PIPFPD in paying tributes to Rehman sab.”

From the Gandhi Global Family/ Association of Peoples of Asia and Nirmala Deshpande Sansthan, Ram Mohan Rai paid tribute to I. A. Rehman, terming him “a legend”.

“His passing away is a major loss for the peace loving people of India and Pakistan. He was well known globally for his work on human rights,” says Rai, recalling that a few days ago, Rehman Sahib had participated in a virtual interaction organized by the youth peace group Aaghaze-Dosti.

“May his soul rest in Peace. His memories will always be with all of us.”

— Beena Sarwar

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