There are very few people in this world who have ever left me speechless. Asma Jahangir was and is one of them. If there was one word that could be used to describe her (and there isn’t any that could ever do her justice), it would simply be fearless.
Born and raised in Lahore, the capital of Punjab, Pakistan in 1952 to a politically active family, Asma Jahangir was a human rights lawyer and a social activist who opposed the military regime and violence which plagued Pakistan. She despised the deep-rooted patriarchy, the abuse of women, and the inability of the common people to speak out against what she believed was a dictatorship disguised as democracy. Asma Jahangir sought to change this dangerous mold Pakistani society was shaped by and although the battle is far from being won, her influence has played a pivotal role in inspiring the men, women, and children of a country that has been polluted with dangerous ideologies and corrupt leaders.
Her most notable works and stances include being against the degrading blasphemy laws which targeted religious minorities under the reign of dictator General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization agenda. She supported women’s rights in a country which treated women like second-class citizens and most importantly she sought ways to improve life and end discrimination against Pakistan’s low-income families and children. She founded Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission and alongside her sister, Hina Jilani, she established the first women’s law firm. She and her sister also helped create a lobbyist group known as the Women’s Action Forum which pressured the discrimination against women in courts, as they valued a women testimony to be half of a mans, which besides being misogynistic also created difficulties when women reported an assault, domestic abuse, etc. Asma helped and tried to tear down a thriving culture of rape and sexual assault in a society that views both as a taboo and a stigma. In conjunction to gaining more legal rights for women, she and her sister set up the first free legal aid facility were those who could not obtain lawyers were able to. These are only some of the many ways Asma Jahangir tried to help persecuted and marginalized minorities in Pakistans unjust justice system and to defend them against the ruthless scrutiny of a society that was intoxicated with fundamentalist beliefs.
As a result, her reputation suffered. Often in Pakistani society when a person — especially if that said person happens to be an intimidating woman — challenges the toxic masculinity and dares to throw corrupt men off the pedestal they’ve placed themselves on, she will be objectified, she will be harassed, and she will be thrown every insult in the book. She was condemned by “religious” figures, accused of blasphemy, called anti-muslim, anti-Pakistani, ironically by some of the most senile people in the world, who themselves stand against everything Islam truly represents. Asma Jahangir was even at one point placed under house arrest, but the one thing her silencers never understood about Asma, is that she wasn’t just the voice of a movement that would be silent without her, she birthed an idea, and ideas, as John F. Kennedy once said, live on even when people die, and nations rise and fall.
Asma Jahangir highlighted what was wrong with Pakistan’s society, the backwards attitudes we have developed in a progressing world, and she is the face of a revolution that, albeit still having many more battles to win, is undeniably changing the way Pakistan and its people think, which is the first step to taking back a country poisoned by the exploitive bureaucracy and oppressive military regime. She has and always was on the right side of history, fighting for people who were voiceless in a country that bred hate against anyone who did not fit social norms, and for that, I am eternally grateful. Feminism is a powerful thing, and women like Asma are proof that with a little bit of hope, even in the darkest of times, a little bit of courage, even in the most fearful of times, one can create change even in a country which seems to reject all notions of it.
Asma Jahangir died today, at the age of 66 from cardiac arrest. Rest In Power.