Pakistan: Asma Jahangir was a role model for the world, not just Pakistan

Science says we have five senses. Many quip intuition as our sixth-sense. But it is wisdom that should be our sixth-sense.This is all the more relevant today in the context of the type of social-activism that Asma Jahangir stood for.

A lawyer and human rights activist, she passed away on Feb 11. She had spoken out about political oppression and human-rights for many years, and was respected as a prominent voice advocating the rights of women, the marginalised and the disadvantaged. Her common-sense approach helped maintain a balance in social-rights despite the opportunistic tactics of dictators. Her wisdom identified the real instances of oppression and corruption, and she fought the long, hard battle on those fronts. These included protesting the Proposed Law of Evidence on women testimonies, honour killings,Hadood Ordinance on rape victims required to prove their innocence, harassments in custody, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, juvenile injustice, forced conversion of minorities, ethnic marginalisation of Pashtuns, inclusion of ISI members in the team investigating Sharif’s corruption allegations, amongst others.Her free legal aid centre, AGHS, has helped women, children and the marginalized for 37 years. Many times when such clients could not even afford to pay her, she fought for free so that justice was effected. She even paid the surety bond for a Japanese mother in an abduction case. Her insistence on free-and-fair play dates from the time she protested in her school, Convent of Jesus and Mary, to appoint the head-girl via election. This was the core difference between her brand of social-rights activism, and the scores of pseudo-activists who only aim for free news-bytes. Resultantly, her work made meaningful differences in the lives of people.While she earned honours at home and abroad, her opponents resorted to low-tactics to malign her.But each time, she rendered such fabrications hollow with her grit and wisdom.Pakistanis who often derided her as they imagined her work’s objective was to malign Pakistan’s name, should consider themselves lucky that they at least had such a personality who fought the hard battles for social-rights. Many countries do not even have such a person.

While Pakistan mourns one of its foremost humanity advocates, it is important her legacy continues. Her country continues to face internal challenges. Crime against children and women persist, as the Zainab Ansari case showed. The ruling party has been rocked by corruption allegations leading to the exit of its long-serving leader. Some time ago, the capital was brought to a halt as an opposition party conducted a protest. Last year, a leading daily reported alleged rifts between the military and politicians. Even the relations between its politics and judiciary have had its downs in recent times. The security situation remains volatile at places, with even the Chinese targeted at sensitive regions. Ethnic divides persist, with the capital seeing demonstrations by the Pashtuns, albeit peaceful. The country has long been divided about the use of its soil for the US-led war on terror and drone attacks on militant hideouts.

At this time, her country needs more people like her who can maintain the balance in social-rights, as she did by questioning the establishment. Questioning power, especially if their actions border on social injustice, is not wrong. Social instability only breeds divisions. Pakistan’s power-centres can not afford such a cost. But at the same time, it is critical to ensure that such questioning should be constructive for the society’s benefit, not an impediment halting every action the state takes. That is where the sixth-sense of wisdom is needed, so that questioning is done not just for questioning’s sake or to garner free publicity, but for a more constructive recourse to help social-rights in specific areas of concern, like she did. Her legacy should continue, but activists should use their wisdom to ensure they identify the real problems and fight long to solve them so that it creates a meaningful difference in peoples’ lives.

Her example holds lessons for other countries as well, not just Pakistan. Many countries around the world, developing or developed, are facing internal challenges due to oppression, corruption or marginalisation. Even they should take a leaf from her book. If her legacy can continue everywhere, it would be a bigger tribute to the values she stood for than just condolences on her passing. That way, we can say her legacy of wisdom continues world over.

Originally published here –


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