Who will keep Asma’s flame burning?

Published: February 18, 2018
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Asma Jahangir. PHOTO: AFP

Asma Jahangir. PHOTO: AFP

Asma Jahangir. PHOTO: AFP The writer is a US-based journalist with over 30 years of experience

Who will pick up Asma Jahangir’s torch and run with it? Who will keep her flame burning? Only the brave, bold and courageous will fight for human rights of voiceless Pakistanis left in the dark; Only those with a conscience will confront the corrupt elite. Few, if any will have the spine to resist the cruel, religious obscurantists and inhuman forces whose merciless grip on Pakistan continues. Asma’s iconic career touched and inspired many souls, but the question now is: Who will follow in her footsteps? It’s a huge challenge. Her comrade-in-arms I A Rehman hopes that many young men and women Asma inspired, trained and worked, will step forward.

After the 2005 earthquake that devastated Pakistan, Asma Jahangir arrived in New York to talk about the calamity at the premier Asia Society. Rabia, a student of Barnard College — Columbia University, accompanied me to the talk. The Pakistan Society at her college had raised a sizeable sum to donate to the earthquake victims back home. Asia Society was headed by an Indian woman. As expected the auditorium was packed, mostly with the Indian community, come to hear the great Pakistani human-rights activist. They were not disappointed. But I was. Being critical of our armed forces on a foreign platform (especially a hostile one) for the shoddy work they were doing in the aftermath of the earthquake was not okay for me. During the question/answer session I stood up to ask Asma: Was it therefore not more important for her to stay back and help out instead of coming to the US? She silenced me in a second. So I sat down. Her snub appeared to have pleased the audience as a ripple of laughter rang out.

A couple of months down the road, as I sat at the home of my former editor (a great guy) for dinner surrounded by many senior media people, including the Indian journalist Kuldip Nayar, I related the incident. Even before I could finish my story, one of them whipped out his cell phone and dialled Asma to tell her she needed to come immediately. The rest of the media heavyweights, including the hostess, were angry why I had brought up the subject. Anyway, my husband gestured to me that we had overstayed our welcome and it was time to leave. On the way home, it hit me that those who adore Asma will not brook any critical comment against her. Such is their idolisation for this brave woman. But here’s my question for them: will anyone of them, still holding cushy journalism jobs and drawing princely salaries, be willing to play even a fraction of the part played by Asma Jahangir during her decades of struggle against the forces of evil — civil, military and religious? Would anyone of these armchair analysts be willing to go out on the streets at the risk of being beaten, jailed or even killed?

Let’s ask these paper and TV tigers if they have the guts to take on the religious right? When an honour killing occurs, which is so often, or when a woman, child is raped, humiliated before the whole community by a gang of powerful people, will they have the courage to come out and side with the victim? Asma was always there to be their voice. She was not afraid of anyone. She could snub, silence and vanquish anyone who dared to cross her path, as I learnt much to my embarrassment. I thought as a journalist it was my right to ask her questions she may not agree with. I watched many of her talk shows on TV where she would get entangled with the other guest speakers. Guess who came out the winner? Asma Jahangir! And therein lay her power that she harnessed to repel her adversaries; that made her extraordinary.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 18th, 2018.

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Reader Comments (7)

  • Javed
    Feb 18, 2018 - 1:14PM

    Sir, if one’s comments are not to appear, then why this columnRecommend

  • Zaida Parvez
    Feb 18, 2018 - 2:41PM

    Asma Jahangir can never be replaced. Nobody in Pakistan has the courage that she had. A great person has left Pakistan forever.Recommend

  • reality
    Feb 18, 2018 - 4:39PM

    Pakistan society has changed for the better because of Asma. Who will keep the flame burning?, that is for you and me, the common citizen of this nation. Little drops of water make a mighty ocean. Asma has raised the consciousness of this nation, she has saved lives, we are more aware than before. Even if each of us just had a fraction of the courage that she had we all put together can overcome a lot. This is a challenge not as individuals, but for this whole nation, those in power, those on the pulpit, for paupers, for tycoons, this is what passing on the torch means, it is a combined effort not an individual one. If Pakistan is to rise, it has to rise from within. Recommend

  • shakil ahmed
    Feb 18, 2018 - 5:03PM

    No doubt Asma was an icon for human rights and depressed people in Pakistan. However as
    a human being she has some deficiencies like others. It is better to adopt her good things and avoid her drawbacks. But there is no harm pinpointing her weak points. Main issues is how to
    keep her legacy excluding her pitfalls. No one is perfect except Almighty Allah! Good analysis
    on the part of author. Recommend

  • Adagio for String
    Feb 18, 2018 - 9:09PM

    There’s no dearth of enemies of Pakistan to continue with her “legacy”Recommend

  • kumar
    Feb 19, 2018 - 2:12AM

    Marvi Sirmid …ofcourse!!!Recommend

  • vinsin
    Feb 19, 2018 - 11:13AM

    The lady herself written multiple articles against human rights of minorities but here she is worried about Asma’s misision for human rights.Recommend

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