Asma Jahangir, 66. Lahore.


Asma Jahangir.

The mere name synonomises with struggle for human rights in Pakistan. The lawyer and activist spent her whole life to ensure reparation and dignity to the underdogs, otherwise conveniently swept under the proverbial carpet. Fiercely independent in her opposition to the might, Asma had not learnt to mince words and despite threats to her self and colleagues on several occasions, never shirked from an opportunity to call a spade.

In her illustrious career she managed to befriend many and even her venomous critics were not without praise for her steel will and strength. Asma, who began her career as a lawyer, fought her father’s case when he was imprisoned for irking the government. She had in her school days learnt the value of democracy and struggled for it. Her career as a lawyer started in 1982 and soon she was the first woman president of the Supreme Court Bar Association of the country. Asma cofounded the law consultancy, AGHS, Women Action Forum, WAF; and Human Rights Commission Pakistan, HRCP. Every commitment brought honour to the country and its people through service.

Asma fought for Saima Waheed, the woman whose crime was to marry of her own will; Baba Jan, a leader from Gilgit Baltistan and many others like them. For so many her services were pro bono. With each case she paved the way for the younger generations: renewing their belief in the legal system of the country and the constitution. She spent much of her energy to oppose dictatorship and its many garbs. She had been imprisoned for her prodemocracy activism for the MRD in 1983, and again in 2007, for her role in the lawyers’ movement.

Indeed Asma had the penchant for boldness in her actions and speech and had no stomach for dallying and deceit.

The critics that she found during her life of work are a measure of her character. As a contrarian she was adventurous and confronted power constantly. She was known to embarrass politicians, power wielders and also professionals from her own fraternity for their lies. Her wit was matchless and courage awe-inspiring.

Asma’s lifetime of services were celebrated the world over. She was the longest serving United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights and won UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights. She was awarded French Officier de la Légion d’honneur. At home she had received Hilal-i-Imtiaz and a Sitara-i-Imtiaz.

Jahangir breathed her last on 12 February. Her untimely death shocked the nation. She is survived by a son and two daughters. Jahangir was born in Lahore in January 1952.

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