Pakistani Humanitarian – Asma Jahangir
This is an angry blog. Most of the posts I submit are spiteful, passionate rants against religion and how it’s at open war with humanity and all that is good. How it replaces real morals with its own pseudo-morals, and how it has become a tool for gaining swift popularity (if you don’t believe me , ask Talat Hussain, who understands the importance of this cheap tactic really well). Those who follow me regularly know only too well the searing hate and rancor that oozes out of the very pixels of one’s screen when my words appear on it.
But a couple of days ago, I found hope and sanguinity. Somewhere within the higher echelons of our justice system, I saw the tiniest sparkle of rationality. The sparkle came from our new President of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Asma Jahangir.
Human Rights Advocate
Jahangir has always resisted military regimes with the harshest, boldest of statements and has been an outspoken critic of shameful military policies in Balochistan and FATA. This is a woman who sees neither religion, nor political puissance – she has made it a habit to call a spade, a spade. She raises her voice against that which is wrong, no matter how often the Islamic organizations slap the title of “sacred” onto it, or how much the military, and corrupt politicians, flex their muscles.
A Pakistani Woman’s Best Friend
In 1982 Jahangir earned the nickname “little heroine” after leading a protest march in Islamabad against a decision by then-president Zia-ul-Haq to enforce religious laws and stated:
“Family laws (which are religious laws) give women few rights…They have to be reformed because Pakistan cannot live in isolation. We cannot remain shackled while other women progress.“
In a country with laws that punish women for being raped, instead of serving them justice, Asma became the savior of many persecuted women including familiar names like Mukhtara Mai, Jehan Mina and Shahida Pervez.
She’s a founding member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and has been an outspoken member of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF), a pressure group campaigning against discriminatory laws in Pakistan’s constitution, most notably the Law of Evidence, which states that a woman’s testimony in court is worth only half of a man’s.
Supporting Religious Minorities
She’s a fierce critic of Pakistan’s abominable Blasphemy Law (295 A, B and C) which has become a constant source of fear and injustice for non-Muslims of this country.
“It would be hypocrisy to defend laws I don’t believe in, like capital punishment, the blasphemy law and laws against women and in favor of child labor.“
She has raised concerns all over the world on religious/ethnic discrimination, sectarian conflicts, constitutional violations, and child labour in Pakistan. Despite harsh opposition by Islamic zealots, she has helped many non-Muslim Pakistanis escape persecution on religious grounds.
In 1995, after defending Salamat Masih, a 14-year old Christian boy accused of blasphemy (a charge which carries death penalty) and winning the case, a mob assaulted her outside the High Court, threatened her with death and smashed her car. Jahangir has become an iron-lady, accustomed to the idea of reading death threats in the morning instead of a newspaper.
In May 2005 Jahangir announced that she would hold a symbolic mixed-gender marathon in Lahore to raise awareness about violence against women. The idea of gender mixing did not please the supporters of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal as well as other Islamic groups, who opposed the race armed with batons, firearms and Molotov cocktails. The police, far from helping, brutally treated Jahangir and proceeded to strip off her clothes in public in an attempt to humiliate her.
Yet this woman marches on undeterred..
Today, she stands as the first female President in the history of Pakistan’s Supreme Court Association Bar. I see in her eyes an image of rationality, and with it, a hope that all is not yet lost for this country.