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Asma Jahangir: She shaped the destiny of South Asia

“We want the open skies of friendship, not walls of hatred,” these words of Asma Jahangir resonated across India Habitat Centre in New Delhi where numerous Indian friends of the Pakistani civil rights activist who breathed her last on 11 February, 2018 in Lahore due to brain haemorrhage  gathered to pay their last respects and celebrate an extraordinary life.

Feb 17, 2018
By Lekshmi Parameswaran 
 
“We want the open skies of friendship, not walls of hatred,” these words of Asma Jahangir resonated across India Habitat Centre in New Delhi where numerous Indian friends of the Pakistani civil rights activist who breathed her last on 11 February, 2018 in Lahore due to brain haemorrhage  gathered to pay their last respects and celebrate an extraordinary life.
 
For many, Asma Jahangir was a champion of human rights and an outspoken critique of the military and Pakistan's notorious Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). But for all those who have observed her life and work closely, she was the hope that the subcontinent needed to carry on its numerous struggles. The fearlessness that defined her gave courage to an entire generation to fight for their beliefs and values. Smiling her way through some of the most trying circumstances, she taught the world to see light in the gloomiest of times. Hers is a life that transcended all boundaries to spread the message of love and peace in her country, Pakistan, across the inflamed borders in India, and in the rest of the region.
 
Indira Jaising, Supreme Court lawyer and former Additional Solicitor General of India, recalled some of the important lessons that Jahangir had taught her. “Asma shaped the destiny of the South Asian region. She taught the value of bonding between two nations and we must carry forward her legacy. Her challenge to authoritarianism where she said no dictator in Pakistan can survive beyond a point is also the greatest take away lesson from her.” she said. Jaising urged everyone present to raise their voice and fight for their rights even if it is against a “democratically elected leader”.
 
Miloon Kothari, WGHR Convenor who has extensively worked with Jahangir during his tenure as a UN Rapporteur, paid tribute to her unflinching faith in humanity. “Asma’s life is a tremendous vindication of the human rights approach. She believed in the multilateral system in spite of all the killings she had seen. She made us all understand that in the darkest struggles we face, we have to be optimistic.”
 
Vrinda Grover, lawyer and human rights activist, reminisced how Jahangir had infused a new spirit into human rights lawyering by making it an act of resistance which went far beyond the ambit of courtrooms.
 
Jyoti Malhotra, who is part of the South Asian in Media (SAWM), said at a time when freedom of speech and expression in South Asia is being challenged, Jahangir’s life serves as an inspiration to not give up and continue fighting for what is right.
 
The evening interspersed with renditions of Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s poems celebrated the indomitable spirit of Asma Jahangir. Destiny has in the most unfortunate way cut short her life, but she has left behind valuable lessons that will continue to inspire generations to come. Her funeral which saw the gathering of men and women from all religions and race was termed the ‘last subversive act’. Even in death Asma Jahangir ensured that the faith in humanity is not lost. Her life and times will continue to serve as a beacon of hope for those thousands of people in need of a voice. Perhaps therein lies the greatest challenge too. The subcontinent will now have to fill the void left by Jahangir by finding its own voice.
 
(Lekshmi Parameswaran is a researcher at the Society for Policy Studies, New Delhi. She can be c ontacted at lekshmi.p@spsindia.in)

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