Kishwar Naheed’s moving tribute to Asma Jahangir: “Asma! You are immortal”

Published: February 11, 2020

Today marks the second death anniversary of arch-feminist and champion of human rights, Asma Jahangir. Her staunch commitment to the ideals which she believed in won her many admirers but also many detractors. Even after her passing, she continues to be deified around the world yet demonised by many in her native country. However, the truth is that we in this nation have never needed her more than we do now because intolerance, bigotry, censorship, and creeping authoritarianism are rife in Pakistan. Hence, not only is it important to remember her steadfast contributions to the country but it is equally important to ensure that we continue to support the causes she championed. 

Jahangir devoted her life to raising a voice for the rights of women, religious minorities, children and pro-democracy forces in the country. Hence, it is perhaps fitting that tomorrow, February 12th, marks the 37th National Women’s Day in Pakistan. The fact that Jahangir’s death anniversary is followed by National Women’s Day seems truly appropriate.

To commemorate Jahangir’s death anniversary today and also celebrate National Women’s Day tomorrow, I am presenting here an original translation of a heartfelt tribute to Jahangir by another iconic feminist, the poetess Kishwar Naheed. Originally titled “Asma! Tum Javidaan Ho” (Asma! You are immortal), it is part of Naheed’s last poetic collection “Shireen Sukhani se Pare” (Away from sweet talk) which was published soon after Jahangir’s passing away back in 2018. But rather than having a mournful ring to it, the poem instead celebrates Jahangir’s life and dedication to the cause of the oppressed. The poem embodies the hope that people like her may have passed on from the earthly plane but will continue to live on forever because of their enduring legacy and the countless lives they impacted.

Asma! Today a crack developed in the rampart of your city of Lahore

Mischievous and cunning, barbarism’s purveyors

Seem to be happy today at your passing

They were happy even that day

When Hasan Nasir, Faiz and the Bhutto family

Were sent to Allah Miyan (on the way to immortality)

Allah Miyan then saw, the same Satans

Sometimes Mashal, sometimes Naqeeb

And sometimes hacking young girls to pieces

They were congratulating the latter for saving honour

But God is not without justice

Asma the princess of peace!

You were hit by so many black wind gusts

How many poisonous bullets fired, like locusts

But you were saved because

In that, sobbing faces from place to place

Were waiting in anticipation

For your smile

Without a guile

They say spirits remain in motion through reincarnation

So much so that they achieve purification

Your restless but pure spirit Asma!

The bruises on the faces of all people dwelling in dust

Will change into light, gentle, fresh buds if they must

In all the ruined settlements

Hearing your footsteps daily

The sad and lightless eyes verily

Will light up

All the masters of the worship of torture

Will become extinct

But your spirit!

What to talk of sometimes, but often with the voice of the bird

And around the whole world

With the clouds roaring

Will be with us standing!

Raza Naeem

Raza Naeem

The author is president of the Progressive Writers Association in Lahore. He is a Pakistani social scientist, book critic and translator. His translations of Saadat Hasan Manto have been re-translated in both Bengali and Tamil, and he received a prestigious Charles Wallace Trust Fellowship in 2014-2015 for his translation and interpretive work on Manto. He is presently working on a book of translations of Manto's progressive writings, tentatively titled Comrade Manto.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.