Human Rights Activist and Researcher
“I met her in person almost 20 years back. However, I have followed her work on human rights over the years. She was one brave, determined and principled woman who broke many boundaries, particularly in her home country of Pakistan. She did not belong to a particular party or ideological movement, yet she was able to mobilise people around her ideas and activism. She truly was an example of someone who could recognise the transcendent importance of equality and liberty, especially for women. She was the face of the “other Pakistan” and an important voice for human rights in that region. The progressive people of the region, therefore, feel with anguish the empty space left behind by her.”
“You are an Indian who wants India-Pakistan peace. You therefore resent the black-and-white image of Pakistan in India. There’s a right wing out there who’s dying to see Pakistan as a failed state, the sooner the better. This narrative is used to further fuel jingoism and hate – not only for Pakistan, but cunningly and indirectly, for Indian Muslims too. What do you do? You highlight the positive news from Pakistan, you humanise Pakistan with its people and food and music and cotton, and you stop seeing all the violence and the threats to democracy.
Similarly, you could invert the image. I have met Pakistani liberals who have this view of India as the land of secularism, democracy and freedom as if those abstract ideas don’t face any challenges. But they do. And they do in every country in the world, all the time. The struggle for all the right things in the world is a daily struggle. Unlike the dreams revolutionaries sell, there is no utopia.
The passing away of Asma Jahangir recently felt like a personal loss. I wondered why, because I had never even met her. The loss felt personal, I realised, because Asma Jahangir’s life and work had been an early influence on how I came to see India and Pakistan, India-Pakistan relations and nationalism itself.
Asma, braving smear campaigns and life threats, came across as a person who was after principles, not realpolitik. She criticised India and Pakistan alike, while struggling for India-Pakistan peace. Asma Jahangir was a Muslim and a Pakistani but along with that, when I listened to what she had to say, she affirmed my faith in the religion of human rights and the nation of freedom.
That is why Asma Jahangir’s sudden death is a great loss not only for Pakistan but also India and the world at large.”
“Asma Jahangir spoke a language which was familiar to all of us in South Asia. One felt a kinship with her struggle in Pakistan, for we had the same battle against state oppression, for democracy and in defense of human rights. These battles in South Asia and elsewhere in the world are lonely battles; they are long and arduous. They are also very dangerous.
On the face of it, one assumes that stable democracies are bastions for freedom. But often we find that countries that have had to struggle for democracy repeatedly have the more inspiring struggles.
I am not surprised at the celebration of Asma Jahangir’s life. She was indomitable and defended the weak, the marginalised, the minorities and women. Asma was one of the few South Asians who straddled the divide of our countries and served as an exemplar of not only how to make a difference but also to make the world a better place.
Asma’s voice and battles erased the difference between India and Pakistan, and raised the possibility of a common struggle of people against unbridled state power.”
“Asma Jahangir was a Muslim and a Pakistani but along with that, when I listened to what she had to say, she affirmed my faith in the religion of human rights and the nation of freedom.” (Shivam Vij, journalist, Delhi)
Cristina Cattafesta and Laura Quagliuolo,
CISDA (Coordinamento Italiano Sostegno Donne Afghane)
“In October 2001, a delegation of Italian activists and members of the Italian and European Parliaments, together with a few journalists and a photographer, went to Pakistan following the idea of Luisa Morgantini, then Vice-President of the European Parliament.
The 11th of September attacks had just happened. The so called “War on Terror” and the invasion of Afghanistan was about to start. What we wanted to do was to meet the activists of RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan) and HAWCA (Humanitarian Association for Women and Children of Afghanistan), and see with our eyes the work that they were doing with the Afghan refugees in Pakistan and within Afghanistan. We were looking to understand their views on the situation. Our goal was to lend any support possible, as they were really working hard to denounce the crimes committed in Afghanistan and trying to build a better future for their people.
It was on this occasion that RAWA introduced us to Asma. They said that she was a great supporter of their cause.
We found a determined woman, a great defender of justice and of human and women’s rights, open-minded and kind. In the following years we had the opportunity to see her again when visiting Pakistan with other delegations.
She was always available to give a speech to the 8th of March (International Women’s Day) events held by RAWA and our first impression was confirmed.
She was a true defender of human rights and she spent all her life struggling for her ideas.”