Asma Jahangir was awarded the UN Human Rights award 2018 posthumously to honor her life long struggle against Human Rights violations in Pakistan and raising her vooice against those occuring across the globe.
“I am certainly not a martyr kind of a person. I love my life. But if one has to, then there is nothing nobler a cause that I can think of”.
Asma Jahangir maintained all her life.
Asma Jahangir was a power house. A passionate activist, a relentless lawyer and most of all a women who cared about the oppressed class. The female superhero spent her entire life fighting for the rights of others and protesting against injustice by the government or the law. In a conservative society like Pakistan, she rebelled and made her voice heard.
The fierce lawyer was born on the 27th of January in the year 1952. She attended the Convent of Jesus and Mary and then did her B.A from Kinnaird College. Later she did her LLB from Punjab University in 1978.
Asma was born in a political family and was exposed to activism at an early age when she protested against the imprisonment of her father who had been locked up for his rebellion against dictatorship in the Zia ul Haq era.
Asma Jahangir held her first protest during her years at the convent of Saint Jesus and Mary, which is actually a church run school in Lahore. In her time there the head girl was always selected by nuns. She being an O’level student in the 1960s considered this to be unfair and thought that the head girl should be elected not selected. And so she protested her demands. The administration of the school did agree but they still retained the veto power.
Asma Jahangir campaigned against the discriminatory laws of the country and avidly defended those who were at a disadvantage. She and three of her other colleagues got together and opened up the first ever female established law firm in Pakistan called the AGHS Law Associates in 1980.
In 1981, Jahangir was a member of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) which was a group that fiercely campaigned against laws of Pakistan that discriminated against women. They protested most vitally against the Law of Evidence in which the value of a woman’s testimony was reduced to half as compared to that of a man. Asma was also against the Hudood Ordinances in which the rape victims had to prove their innocence but if they could not do so, they themselves were subject to punishments. In the year 1983, Asma Jahangir marched across the streets of Lahore against a decision made by then President Zia-al Haq to impose religious laws.
Jahangir and her colleagues were arrested by the police, tear gassed and beaten when they protested against the draft of the law of evidence. Fearless, in the same year, Asma Jahangir disputed against a judgment in which a blind, teenage girl, who had been brutally raped by her employers was later accused of zina (fornication) and had been given the sentence of flogging and three years’ imprisonment and. The verdict was soon overturned because of the protests. After that, Asma Jahangir was subject to house arrest and then imprisoned for protesting against Zia ul Haq’s Islamisation policy.
“The morality of a society is not judged by the behaviour of an oppressed class but by the rules and laws made by the state, which either protect or exploit an already depressed section of society. “
Asma Jahangir believed.
As Pakistan did not have a national human rights institution, Asma Jahangir was one of the first founder members of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. It is actually an independent NGO, and was started in the year 1986. She served as both Chairperson and Secretary General of this prominent institution. The objective of the institution is to promote and defend human rights in Pakistan, plus the monitoring of human rights violations. The Commission has been involved in many prickly issues which include honor-killing, violence against women, religious violence and abolishment of capital punishment.
Asma Jahangir was a very strong advocate of shielding the rights of the persecuted secular minorities in Pakistan and bluntly spoke out against the forced conversions. In the year 1995 a 14 year Christian boy Salamat Masih had been held up on the charge of Blasphemy and was sentenced to death. Asma Jahangir was his lawyer and an angry mob outside the Lahore court broke the windows of her car and then manhandled her driver.After that she and her family got attacked, taken hostage, someone broke into their home and received death threats. Jahangir and her team did not give up and continued to work on the case and the boy was soon acquitted.
“Everything is a risk in Pakistan: If you defend women, it’s a risk. If you defend non-Muslims it’s a risk. If you discuss religion, it’s a risk. But you can’t really sit there like a vegetable in your own society. And I’m committed to that society… and I feel I need to turn around and speak as I should”.
said Asma Jahangir.
Fight for women rights
Jahangir and her associates at AGHS Legal Aid Cell since 1986, have taken on a large number of cases that involve children, women and bonded laborers. She also went ahead and established a shelter for women, known as ‘Dastak’.
The Lahore High Court in the year 1996 ruled that women could not get married without the consent of their male guardian and the women who did go against this and chose their husbands independently were for forced to annul their marriages and Jahangir, who repeatedly took on cases like this, emphasized the repercussions. She was able to help many women get out of prison who were sentenced for adultery and immoral sexual behavior.
In 1991 Jahangir took up Saima Sarwar’s case who was an individual and had left her husband and moved to Dastak. She was seeking divorce when she was murdered in the name of honor killing in one the Jahangir’s offices,emphasizing the immense risks involved in pursuing taking on these kinds of cases in Pakistan.
In 2005 Asma Jahangir organized a mixed gender marathon in order to raise awareness about the discrimination against sportswomen by religious zealots and ended up being stripped, beaten and detained by the police.
In the year 2007, Asma Jahangir was among the 500 lawyers, opposition politicians and human rights activists who were detained by President Musharraf when he declared a state of emergency. She was placed under house arrest for three months.
“She was an unwavering ally and exponent of Open Society values and principles of human dignity, equality and human rights,”
said Anthony Richter from the Open Society Foundation.
Just after the horrendous Quetta terror attack in 2016, a television anchorman known as Dr. Danish tweeted pictures of Asma Jahangir. The caption of the photos was in Urdu and it said when the lawyers were being killed in Quetta, their so called leader was enjoying herself in the northern areas. The post was actively retweeted, shared on Facebook and WhatsApp groups.
At that time Jahangir was in Gilgit-Baltistan on a human rights mission. There was no possible way that she could travel to the capital of Baluchistan the very same day.
She took to Twitter and responded to the anchorperson: “Shame on you for exploiting facts even when people [are] in grief … Ask [your] spy friends not to stoop to the lowest levels of viciousness.”
Many individuals are enraged still whenever her name is mentioned. An Urdu column writer known as Haroon Rashid in 2013 gave a warned a march to the Capital if Asma Jahangir is made the caretaker PM. She had earlier made very clear that she had no intention to accept the post.
Alongside her work in Pakistan, Jahangir endorsed human rights globally through her very long service with the United Nations. From 1998 to 2004 Jahangir was the UN Special Rapporteur on Arbitrary, Extrajudicial and Summary Executions and from 2004 to 2010 UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion and Belief.
Jahangir is the author of two books: Children of a Lesser God: Child Prisoners of Pakistan Divine Sanction and the Hudood Ordinance.
She is also the recipient of numerous awards which includethe Ramon Magsaysay Award, andthe Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders both in 1995, and in 2010 the sought-after Hilal-i-Imtiaz – the second highest civilian award and honor given by the Government of Pakistan. The respect in which Jahangir was held among her colleagues in the country is proven by her election as the first female President of the Supreme Court Bar Association in the year 2010.
Classically, the funerals in Pakistan, like any other Muslim religious gatherings, are stringentlysex segregated. Women in the crowd of thousands of people who came to mourn the loss of Asma Jahangir at the Lahore Stadium began to push forward until they were standing side by side with the men.
Activist Rimmel Mohydin, who attended the ceremony, called it “Asma’s last subversive act”.
Journalist Ahmed Rashid also said, “She has played a remarkable role in Pakistan’s civil society. There’s nobody to touch her as to the extent that the organizations and legacies that she has left behind.”