Fighting against whom did not matter but fighting for what and how was the basic ethos of the indomitable Asma Jahangir’s philosophy and strategy of struggle. Perhaps, she internalised the strategy of do not look at the height of the peak which you want to scale, but just keep climbing.
Just imagine, an 18-year-old girl signing a petition against a dictator who succeeded another dictator’s about a decade long dictatorial legacy. She secured a rare success of getting the dictator declared as a usurper from a court of law. The fight she picked up with the most powerful on this unfortunate piece of land for the sake of others continued till her last breath.
The common mortals derived their recognition and respect through career but it is a rare example that Asma gave respect and recognition to every assignment, role and career she adopted.
The term human rights was a grand theoretical concept to be debated either in bar rooms or in the posh drawing rooms, among the well paid representatives of intergovernmental or International non government organisations and in the halls of five star hotels. Asma, along with her team, made it a household term through practical actions and demonstration by literally snatching it for the bonded labourers of brick kilns, the oppressed peasants and distressed men and women, political workers as well as journalists even for those who detracted her after her death.
Asma, through her practical struggle, deeds and words seamed the concepts of democracy, making them interchangeable with human rights, liberty, pluralism, diversity and social justice. The very mortal presence of Asma assumed the form of a moving poster and practitioner of these concepts. Therefore, her very presence was a great threat to the opponents of those concepts and values. Her words were not less than a thunderbolt. But her silence was more formidable for the detractor because even in silence, an icon speaks.
In her death, Asma also defied the self-destructive notion that religion is the only glue of the polity and a policy tool that could maintain security and promote the state’s foreign policy objectives
Her norms, values, stance and principles remained unflinching. Though time, situation and circumstances revolved around her, she remained constant. Her opponents of today would be tomorrow’s admirers. She would either stand in a square, on a street with placards, speaking, shouting and getting baton charged by the police or in a court room to rescue and protect her previous detractors and opponents. Her likes and dislikes were not based on personal judgement but were directed against a mindset, belief, policy and political system that tended to dominate, subjugate, oppress, suppress and discriminate other human beings on whatever grounds.
Thus, Asma never skewed but others did change because she firmly believed in the righteousness of her cause and beliefs. Her contentment put her beyond any trap of state office and position. Therefore, she could easily turn down many such offers. She led a restless life to provide rest for others.
She undid what the barrel of gun and bigots did to this country and people and accomplished what the power of tanks, jets and nuclear could not. The guns created fractures in the federation but people like Asma glued that.
She played her fundamental role to throw away dictatorships and restore people’s rule. She strived to wash the stain in international fora from the face of the state and society brought by dictators and bigots. She was a beam in a bleak picture portrayed in the world.
Domestically a glue of integration and unity, her ethos of pluralism and diversity above the ethno, political consideration was a constant hope for those wary of the centralist and weak federating characteristic of the state. Rarely a Punjabi was accorded so much respect, affection and love in grief by other ethnic nationalities in Pakistan as was Asma Jehangir.
The Pakhtun, Baloch, Sindhis and other ethnicities have imbued the social media expressing respect and sorrow over her untimely death. It is a testimony that the problem is not in the race or in the rest but with the hegemonic powers who want to run the state like a fiefdom or garrison.
To my utter surprise, within a few hours after the news of her demise broke, an Afghan artist, Hamdullah Arbab drew her befitting sketch where the background represented her unapologetic persona. Within no time the portrait adorned many social media accounts as a profile picture. This respect comes from present day Afghanistan where the overwhelming majority holds the state of Pakistan under the ruling Punjabi elite responsible for death and destruction in its country. But it seems that Asma’s persona from Punjab was considered above that perception and could become a source of regional integration and peace.
Similarly, the very next morning a Pashto song was circulated on social media that was composed in honour and memory of Asma by an eminently celebrated Pakhtun singer, Haroon Bacha. He hails from Swabi but currently is based in the US as he left the country back in 2008 due to threats to his life by the Taliban terrorists.
Link of the song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-T_5oy1GAV4
Asma also defied in her death that the self destructive notion that religion was the only glue of the polity and the use of religion as policy tool could maintain security and promote foreign policy objectives of the state.
On February 13, 2018, while on the side of her bier, I was overwhelmed by the thought if, along with Asma’s mortal body, we were burying the legacy, struggle, principles and character or sowing seeds of indomitability in the hope of germinating countless nurseries to represent her forever.
Is there an answer to this question?
The writer is a political analyst hailing from Swat. Tweets @MirSwat
Published in Daily Times, February 17th 2018.