Asma Jahangir, mother of Pakistan
Few Pakistanis have shown inspiring courage and perseverance to serve as role models. Abdul Sattar Edhi is one such individual, a world renowned humanitarian and philanthropist, and now, the first female president of the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Asma Jahangir also deserves this distinction for her tenacious struggle for human rights and her resolute stance on women’s rights.
For her entire adult life, Asma has been an advocate of gender equality and minority rights in a highly patriarchal society. She is also the Chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), and the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations on Freedom of Religion/Belief.
Over the years, Asma has been subjected to government oppression in the form of police harassment, public humiliation, even assault and arrests. She has been targeted by extremists through fatwas, life threats, and propaganda. Her family has equally suffered in the form of abductions, home invasion and consistent life threats, but she has continued her struggle for justice.
She has been equally slandered by the military/ruling elite and the “designer patriots” (a term coined by George Fulton to refer to people of the upper middle class with vested business interests and apathy towards the living conditions of the majority of Pakistanis). The paranoia has reached such a ridiculous level that Asma is often labelled a mole working for the CIA, Raw, and Mossad to destabilize Pakistan.
Thankfully, the propagandist and caustic defamation by the ruling elite cannot distort facts. Asma has dedicated her life towards human rights and upholding constitutional law.
Struggle for women’s rights
In a society where women have no bodily autonomy, no reproductive rights, and are used as a tool in dispute settlement mechanisms, Asma has been an advocate for gender equality. Historically she has influenced major social and political issues in Pakistan.
Pakistan had one of the most draconian, barbaric, and absurd set of laws, the Hudood Ordinance (Introduced by the Army only to appease Saudi Arabia so that they participate in Operation Cyclone). Due to this law, hundreds of innocent men and women had been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned. Women who dared to report rape were, and still are, often accused of zina and locked up while their offenders were never questioned and as a result walked free. Asma came as a saviour for most of these persecuted women some familiar names are Safia Bibi, Mukhtaran Bibi, Jehan Mina, Shahida Parveen.
According to Robert Fisk, Pakistan has the grotesque reputation of being one of the leading ‘honour killing’ countries. Millions of women in Pakistan live under a constant threat of being shot, burned, or death by stoning for violating traditional norms. Judicial bias and gender discrimination adds to the affliction of women in Pakistan. Governmental response has been mostly indifferent. Thanks to Asma, many cases of injustice towards women have come to light and have resulted in international criticism of women’s status in Pakistan.
She has also proposed interactions on the civil society level through social exchange combined with efforts to uplift the status of women and at the same provide financial stability through business and job opportunities to poor Pakistani.
The human rights violation in Afghanistan had never been a major part of any international discussion until 9/11. But Asma had highlighted the crimes against humanity committed by the Taliban well before. The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) has also been praised her for her efforts towards the human rights situation in Afghanistan.
An equally vicious law, commonly known as the Blasphemy law, has been responsible for persecuting thousands of minorities; Asma has spoken out against this law and has represented a number of people falsely accused of blasphemy.
Asma Jahangir has raised concerns all over the world on religious/ethnic discrimination, sectarian conflicts, constitutional violations, and child labour in Pakistan.
Exposing atrocities, supporting diplomacy
Asma has always resisted military governments and is a vocal critic of military dictatorship and the past military policies in Bangladesh, Baluchistan, Afghanistan, and FATA. She is despised by many for bringing to international attention the factual accounts of abuse reportedly committed by the army in Balochistan.
Another major reason behind the military’s hostility towards Asma is due to her opinion on Indo-Pak relations. Asma has publicly supported friendly relations and cultural exchange with India. She has also criticized the mujahedeen training camps and the Islamists-military nexus.
Despite her achievements, she is often harassed and criticized by the State, the media and intelligentsia. It is ironic that a person who has worked towards promoting human rights and democracy has been maltreated and slandered.
What is unfortunate is that terrorists like Hafiz Saeed are provided safe haven and protection by the top echelons of the Pakistani leaders, and what’s more, terrorists like Aafia Siddiqui are praised as heroes when legitimate activist like Asma are attacked and ridiculed.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.