Asma Jahangir : Reason To Hope

By Aisha Fayyazi Sarwari

Serious surgical precision is needed in fixing the identity crisis of the state. The state has no business interfering in the affairs of a free man, or what mosques, temples or whatever places of worship he may visit. The state is there to provide protection to its citizens and enable them to guard their lives, liberty and their pursuit of happiness

Being elected to the Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) has made Asma Jahangir the bearer of great expectations for all progressives and liberals in the country who, until now, were holding their breath, looking at events unfold in the judiciary. Watching and waiting for some relief from human rights abuses — rounding up of political workers, little boys being framed under the draconian Blasphemy Law and Ahmedis being persecuted for being born into a religion the state conspires against — there is now light at the end of the tunnel.

There is hope in the fact that Asma was working tirelessly in the defence of human rights when no one was watching. Interviewed by Terry Goss on National Public Radio in March 2001, she said she was awakened by the injustices women had to face in conservative societies like Pakistan and started to work for the cause of women who had no support to leave abusive and forced marriages and for those women victimised not only by rape, but by the Hudood laws that foster the protection of the perpetrator.

There is also hope in the fact that she is fierce. Torn and tattered, when policewomen dragged and shoved her on Gulberg’s Main Boulevard, Asma Jahangir put on an extraordinary show of courage to celebrate a mixed marathon despite being blackmailed by the mullahs and the tight-gripped Musharraf government that appeased them. In this country of bigots and cowards, this frail yet resolute lawyer serves as a constant reminder: not all of us are like General Zia, not all of us stood by with our hands tied behind our backs while decency, common sense and goodness were slaughtered in the name of honour and fake religiosity.

First among the people to call a spade a spade when the Musharraf government came to power, she spoke up against another dictator’s treading on the constitution when few others did. Mincing no words, she told The Economist that the general had “lost his marbles”. Now, over two decades in the field of law and many more in activism, she remains among the most capable of lawyer-activists in Pakistan today and her nomination to the SCBA has been secured after passing through a very competitive round of campaigning to secure votes.

The challenge and the task at hand are tremendous. After the framework given to Pakistan’s constituent assembly by that liberal par excellence, our founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the principles of plurality, secular democracy, modernity and progress — that were the hallmarks of the man — were shelved by an ungrateful nation of bigots and replaced with the Objectives Resolution, which brought in the Islamist agenda and with it a foot in the door for mullahism.

What shame that a man can beat his wife black and blue and get away with it, that the rich can avoid paying taxes with no real deterrent and that a Christian village can be burnt down in a sectarian conspiracy with no recourse for justice. Even more embarrassing is that, under our current law, if an Ahmedi woman is called Ayesha, she can technically be hounded under the draconian and evil ordinance XX of 1984. Worse is the idea that words uttered from your mouth can not only land you behind bars but also get you capital punishment. The horrendous death penalty is one offence that now needs to be shelved to make Pakistan a humane society.

A serious investigation into the laws that have ended up maiming Pakistan’s social structure and transforming it from a liberal and tolerant country to an intolerant dystopia needs to be carried out and those laws need to be questioned and revised. The Blasphemy Law that goes against the tolerant spirit of Islam, the Hudood Ordinance that is a travesty of Islamic law, the blatantly unconstitutional anti-Ahmediyya laws and the constitutional amendment through which our National Assembly chose to practise takfir, all need to go because these are against the norms of any modern and democratic society and because these are fundamentally in conflict with the spirit of Islam itself.

Serious surgical precision is needed in fixing the identity crisis of the state. The state has no business interfering in the affairs of a free man, or what mosques, temples or whatever places of worship he may visit. The state is there to provide protection to its citizens and enable them to guard their lives, liberty and their pursuit of happiness.

Asma Jahangir has worked on these injustices as an individual. Because of her efforts she has been arrested, received death threats and been the target of hostile propaganda. Now she must be willing to work as a representative of the oppressed in this country, which amounts to infinite tears and severed limbs. A gargantuan task awaits her.

Not only are celebrations in order, that a woman of substance is elected to one of the most important offices in this country, but that we need to count ourselves among those on the right side of history. In time, this office will become the pivotal point of turning around the country from a retrogressive law set-up to one where we are all “equal citizens of the state regardless of our caste, colour or creed” and where religion is “the personal faith of an individual”.

May this be the first step on the long road of redemption.

The writer is the Director of the South Asia region for World Association of Investment Promotion Agencies (WAIPA). She also blogs on pakteahouse.wordpress.com

11 Comments

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11 responses to “Asma Jahangir : Reason To Hope

  1. I wholeheartedly congratulate Asma Jahangir and all other supporters of humanity.

    She is really a reason to hope. Secular people have been a more like silent spectators of the events in Pakistan for some times. If you don’t speak out loud others will fill out the gap and will prove to be the only option for people of the country.

    We need to speak out, and speak out very loud to encounter bigots.

    Asma is rightly a reason to hope as she is very outspoken and very loud to express herself out….

    Hope for the Best and Good luck to Asma Jahangir.

  2. Humanity

    “A serious investigation into the laws that have ended up maiming Pakistan’s social structure and transforming it from a liberal and tolerant country to an intolerant dystopia needs to be carried out and those laws need to be questioned and revised. The Blasphemy Law that goes against the tolerant spirit of Islam, the Hudood Ordinance that is a travesty of Islamic law, the blatantly unconstitutional anti-Ahmediyya laws and the constitutional amendment through which our National Assembly chose to practise takfir, all need to go because these are against the norms of any modern and democratic society and because these are fundamentally in conflict with the spirit of Islam itself.”

    Spot on!

    The people must support this correction if they want the state to survive. United we stand, divided we fall.

  3. Fellow-Pakistani

    The GREAT ASMA JAHANGIR did a great service to innocent victims of POLITICO-RELIGIO PEOPE IN AUTHORITY. And she did despite the Mullah-Military-Politicans alliance for efforts to gain cheap popularity. I think the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement (the Lahori-Ahmadis) will always be thankful to her for making it possible to get their court decision of South African Supreme Court published in ‘Pakistan Supreme Court Cases, March 1986’ issue. I’m shure she did it not because she is daughter in-law of Prominant Industrialist belonging to Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, but because of her nature to stand up for the little guy.
    May Allah SWT help her succeed in her just causes. Ameen.

  4. Akram Poswal

    Kudos to Asma. This is great news for lost causes such as justice, equality and rule of law. Miss Jahangir this sad land we call Pakistan is proud of producing a daughter like you today. Now go and do your job so that it can produce more like you.

  5. Nadeem A. Butt

    Good Article!
    Also I need to emphasise that we might be pressurising Asma Sahiba, becuase of our high hopes of her. It is very difficult for her alone to do much about constitutional changes. Fisrt thing is the mind set change, then whole society or at least majority of it must shoulder its own respoibility before it looks at a frail lady!
    My Prayer are with her though, May Allah help her in everything good, she think or tries! Amin!

  6. Except for uncalled for sycophancy and exaggerated (albeit justifiable) eXpectations from Mrs. Asma Jehangir (Justice-with-love, like charity begins with home) , I strongly endorse and second the views of Ms. Ayesha F. Sarwari.

    I am reminded of a story narrated to me by The Right Honorable Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan. Once upon a time a very prominent denizen, in very disraught state, visited with Caliph Hazrat Omer, RA (the Head as well as Chief Justice of the biggest Empire of its time) and kept on repeating and wailing: “I have inflicted a grave wrong..” . Hazrat Omer became very concerned and finally asked; “What did you commit”. His VVIP-visitor described the Wrong. Hazrat Omer said: “You had me greatly worried : I had thought you had committed hypocxrisy!”. Hypocrisy is the worst of crimes and sins. But our Elite engines hypocrisy for personal as well as personnel gain – – running with the hare and hunting happily (tax-free) with the hound. I did not ask Dr AQK what wrong was committed by that visitor. Our Holy Prophet (pbuh!) warned against practising of Double Standards.

    What we desperately need is genuine sunshine/ transparency and affective accountability – – no immunity, no impunity for anyone, repeat anyone. In Pakistan we have just too much protocol, patronage, pull-AO-zarda(ri), peccadilloes, perquisites, point-lessness and personality-cult. Unjust Enrichment and double nationalities are our salutary albatross and imposed mangolsuttra.

    Asma’s family migrated to Canada more than a decade away, and her husband is an industrialist.

    I hope Asma has returned to Pakistan for good and that she is genuinely committed towards its greater good. We need good judges and our denizens/citizens are pinning for good, ethical lawyers of integrity+vision.

    ((Syyed Iqbal Jafree))
    General Counsel, l959-2010
    Pakistan Institute of Human Rights
    Estd. 1959; Registered in 1971

  7. Rafiq Mian

    Her election into position was definitely suspect. Anything and everything in Pakistan today must appear to be suspect. Let us hold your breath and wait unto a fresh morning breeze or fire in our face.

  8. micksdad

    “Asma’s family migrated to Canada more than a decade away, and her husband is an industrialist.

    I hope Asma has returned to Pakistan for good and that she is genuinely committed towards its greater good.”

    Neither Asma or her sister Hina ever left Pakistan except for work or holidays! Asma has been fighting for human rights for decades in Pakistan through HRC and AGHS.

    I really don’t get your point.

  9. Mickdad Sahib/a: AOA

    There is nothing (qqqqq)quixotic about my brief writeup concerning lack of proportionality of unjust expectations versus ground realities of turf control and . I says what that means.
    Read my writing carefully in future with open mind, or just don’t bother, sil vous plais!!!

    How do you know so much as to say that someone else never left Pakistan except for holidays or work. I dont want to get into any bizarre debating, but I do vigorously practice my inherited inclination-and-integrity to speak up and have done so for muchmuch longer than anyone else while seeking no personal gains over last 51 years of fearless public interest law practice spanning some fifty common law jurisdictions. I dont go around foreign consulates begging bowls in my ‘Hidden Hands’.

    Never have I ever indulged in apple-polishing or 99-ka-chucker. I harbour no ill-will for anyone, nor do i practice quack psychology or quantum tutorials-for-cash n carry purposes.

    Furthermore, I have the God-given courage to sign my own name to public interest litigation that has raised issues that no one would touch even with even an eleven G. miles long pole.

  10. micksdad

    DDR SYYED MOHAMMED

    After reading your rambling diatribe I have come to the conclusion that you are an idiot.

  11. Prasad

    micky…This man is anything but an idiot….you may have different opinion, but please dont slur his intelligence…Jaffree Saab, you have an amazing sense of writing, please continue irrespective of individual opinions which obviously you wont be able to stall….refreshing style should continue irrespective of the direction…. Cheers