Asma Jahangir is dead. But she will live forever in our hearts and minds.
Asma fought tirelessly for the cause of the weak, the dispossessed, the have-nots, the voiceless, the disappeared, the bonded, the battered and beaten, and all those shackled by the chains of exploitation and repression in state and society. It is inevitable that many Pakistanis will be inspired by her courage and conviction to carry the torch forward and build a culture of resistance to oppression and injustice. When a big tree falls the saplings in its shade grow to be tall and strong. For the one Asma who has died, surely dozens of Asmas will spring up to enrich the soil of Pakistan in years to come.
Asma did not seek accolades. But they piled up at her doorstep until she sat atop a mountain of laurels. Indeed, she is probably the most acclaimed and decorated Pakistani in history. A sampling of those who eulogized her reads like an International Who’s Who. But considering her staunch defense of constitutional democracy, it is tragic that the democratically elected Pakistani government – which is besieged by many destabilizing conspiracies and for whose constitutional right to survive she fought relentlessly – did not have the courage to give her a state funeral. In fact, none of the mainstream party bigwigs who espouse worthy causes turned up at her funeral.
No matter. The thousands who thronged to wish her on her last journey came from all sections of society whose ordinary everyday lives she had touched in some incredible, heartfelt manner. The old and young, men and women, rich and poor, state and stateless, minorities and majorities, all choking on their tears, formed a caring chain around her until she was returned to the womb of Mother Earth. Indeed, the funeral itself – in which men and women spontaneously prayed together – was a tribute to the spirit of equality that she nurtured and championed all her life.
Many apt words and phrases have been used at home and abroad to describe her persona and politics. Fearless. Gritty. Courageous. Iconic. Principled. Upright. Compassionate. Joan of Arc. Iron Lady. Legendary crusader for human rights. Champion of Truth and Justice. And so on. The international community should now make amends for ignoring her lifetime’s struggle for humanity by bestowing the Nobel Peace Prize on her posthumously.
Inevitably, too, like all great reformers and visionaries, she had her fill of vicious, spiteful detractors and critics in her lifetime. They accused her of being an “Indian Agent” simply because she wanted peace and amity among neighbours; they clipped her words and said she was unpatriotic because she challenged the hegemony of the Miltablishment. They fudged the facts to accuse her of religious deviation. But she stood her ground and had the last laugh. On the day of her passing, all of Pakistan stood up to recognize and pay tribute to her qualities of heart and mind in the service of the downtrodden. Indeed, on that day she seemed to inspire a collective unity of purpose and will in the quest of a progressive Pakistan that had eluded her in her lifetime.
Asma routinely received death threats from all sorts of extremists and misplaced “patriots”. But she never as much as glanced over her shoulder as she went about her daily business. She stood up in courtrooms to challenge bias and prejudice, but always politely. She publicly challenged faulty or biased judgments but never judges personally. She abhorred military dictators and autocracies, however “benevolent” or “liberal” some appeared to be. She was acutely aware of the political, social and human frailties and corruptions of our elected leaders, but she would never allow their constitutional rights to be trampled under the boot of wannabe Saviours and Messiahs from the Miltablishment.
No wonder, “they” hated her with a blind passion reserved only for an implacable “enemy of the state”. No sooner had she been buried that “they” unleashed their social media and TV trolls to blight her character and demean her achievements so that the seeds of her inspiration may be scattered in the wind.
Asma Jahangir valiantly stood for all that is good and great and generous in this age of selfishness and hypocrisy and intolerance. She wanted a Pakistan in which women could aspire to equality and unleash the full potential of half of humanity. She wanted amity among South Asian neighbours so that people could mingle freely, uproot their prejudices and build a creative culture of tolerance and plurality. She wanted the rule of law and constitution to prevail in Pakistan so that the social contract between the rulers and ruled in a modern state could be honoured. She wanted Pakistan to be cited among the progressive and dynamic nations of the world instead of being constantly harangued as a “failing” or “double-dealing” state. She wanted an upright and accountable state instead of a “deep” and self-righteous state.
These are universally noble objectives for which she will long be lauded. Rest in Power, Little Big Woman!