- Rebellion against a defected system
How ironic that Asma Jahangir breathed her last in Lahore on the same day that the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) – of which she was a founding member — was set to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the famous women’s march on Mall Road to challenge Gen Zia’s brutal regime. Of the many baton charges, arrests, harassment, etc, that marked her life and career since then, none could extinguish the flame that led her to champion human rights, fight for minorities, speak for missing persons and even give the sacred judiciary a stern, and very public, dressing down when needed. It would ultimately take a sudden cardiac arrest to silence her brave voice. Yet it’s unlikely that her flame will burn any less brightly.
Even as the press counts her many contributions to Pakistan and Pakistanis, perhaps it is more important to understand the nature of Asma’s rebellion. She had, quite clearly, come to understand that ours is a defected system. And fighting that system made her take on the judiciary as well as the so called establishment. She took blasphemy cases when everyone else was too afraid. She spoke for missing persons when nobody wanted to upset the establishment. She openly challenged military courts. And, even after helping restore the judiciary, she was among its sharpest critics when the institution indulged in activism; a position she took once again quite recently.
Once upon a time, when Asma was first coming to prominence as a rebel in her own right, Pakistan had its share of eminent contrarians who would serve as a collective public conscience; but they have been a dying breed for a while. Yet even among her contemporaries, Asma boasts unique credentials. After all, we no longer have a fighter among us whom the likes of Habib Jalib praised in his books; or whom the leading Urdu press – in that day and age – would dedicate a series of columns to; praising her efforts. It is rightly said that passing gives brave people, whose work always stands out as a shining example, a touch of immortality.