When news of renowned human rights defender Asma Jahangir’s passing broke out on Sunday, it seemed as if the most marginalised sections of Pakistani society had been orphaned. She was an active defender of democracy and human rights till the night before her death.
So much has been written about Jahangir in the last few days in the national and international media, that it seems as if a head of state of global stature has left the world in an untimely manner. While she was not the premier of any country, the world and several international institutions, such as the United Nations (UN) recognized her decades of committed service and contributions to the rule of law, peace and human rights at the national and international level. Prior to her burial, many well known opinion makers and politicians demanded that the government of Pakistan give her a state funeral in recognition of her services.
However, whether or not someone gets a state funeral is not just up to the government. The family of the deceased has to give its consent, and we don’t know whether Asma Jahangir’s family wanted a State funeral for her or not. However, it is almost certain that if one asked her about her opinion on a state funeral for her, she would have refused. This was a woman who fought against the state’s high handedness since she was a teenager. If she were to speak, she probably would have demanded that the government mainstream FATA immediately and grant full political rights to the people there in exchange for the state funeral.
In any case, state funerals in this country are usually offered for those who were agents of the state itself, or those who served the country’s people without taking the state head on, such as Abdul Sattar Edhi and Ruth Pfau. While the contributions of Edhi and Pfau can’t be disputed, Asma Jahangir knew the importance of confronting the injustice perpetrated by the state in a direct manner. For these reasons, she would not have appreciated the theatrics of a state funeral.
In any case, state funerals in this country are usually offered for those who are agents of the state itself, or those who serve the country’s people without taking the state head on, such as Abdul Sattar Edhi and Ruth Pfau
It is no wonder that she was subjected disgusting smear campaigns; being referred to as a sell-out, traitor, liberal fascist and an Indian, American or Israeli agent by certain sections of Pakistani society which remain blinded by the influence of short-sighted patriotism. Pakistan’s mainstream news and social media is rife with this sort of jingoism, which is ideologically supported by the deep state’s narrative which supports the ludicrous idea that international forces are constantly scheming against this country.
Had hers been a state funeral, we would not have seen men and women smashing social norms by offering funeral prayers together? Our orthodox clergy and their followers were no doubt, perturbed over these scenes from her funeral.
Her last rites shattered a long held social taboo which discouraged women from performing funeral prayers in public, even though there is no prohibition against this in Islamic religious scripture.
Asma Jahangir and those like her don’t seek the sanction of the state. She would have opted for a people’s funeral to a state funeral. She represented the truer conscience of people who stood for humanity, justice and respect for diversity of opinions, beliefs and identities.
The writer is a sociologist with interest in history and politics. He tweets @ZulfiRao1
Published in Daily Times, February 15th 2018.