Asma Jaahngir, The Iron Lady of Pakistan

by Farzeen Amin

Pakistan got independence in 1947.The independence that we celebrate every year on 14th August was not seen as the same by everyone in our country. The independence was not free but the freedom was tied in the ropes of inequality, dictatorship, injustice, feudalism, male dominance, inferiority, abuse and violence. Pakistan has seen many leaders who have given the direction for the people and governments to follow but there were few who fought for the freedom in the independent state. There are very few leaders who do not lead from the front but from within, such a leader was Asma Jahangir.

Asma Jahangir and her fight for the freedom had started very early for her, she was born on 27 January 1952 at the political family. She was the daughter of Malik Ghulam Jilani who openly opposed the dictatorship in Pakistan. In 1971, Ghulam Jilani was arrested on the orders of Yahya Khan, Asma Jahangir was in her teen age but she stood to fight against it and she filed a petition for the release of her father in the High court of Lahore. She did not accept her defeat when she lost the case in high Court and filed a petition in Supreme Court which later announced the case to be illegal and released Malik Ghulam Jilani.

Asma Jahangir received her initial education from Convent of Jesus and Mary. She completed her Bacheleor from Kinnard College and decided to take law degree from Punjab University. Asma Jahangir was never an ordinary women but an iron lady who defied the orthodox norms and values of the society. She was the most prominent human rights lawyer and activist. She co-founded the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. She worked for her entire life for the rights of minorities, women and children.

Asma Jahangir was a staunch supporter of democracy. She had seen worst military regimes in her life and spent years in the opposition of such system. She had no fear from any consequences, her bravery lead her way to the imprisonment in 1983 while she participated in the restoration of democracy movement against Zia ul Haq regime. Her spirit was not weakened by the hardships of prison and she continued to put her voice against the military governments in Pakistan. She played a strong in the lawyer’s movement of 2007.

Asma Jahangir had always refused to follow the superstitious and illogical norms of the society which became the biggest reason of religious leader’s resentments towards her. She had a habit of public smoking which highlighted her in a bad light. She was never bothered with the opinion people had for her and she continued to focus on her work for the community. She was amongst the only women leader who put the issue of women rights on the surface.

Asma Jahangir had worked with United Nations as special Rapporteur on freedom of Religion and Belief. She became the voice for the injustice against the religious minorities living in Pakistan. She has a very soft corner for the children and she worked to eradicate child abuse and child labor. Asma Jahangir was the name of courage and strength and an excellent example for the women of contemporary era to follow.

She had won many awards for her unending struggle for the community of Pakistan in her life including the 2014 Right Livelihood Award, 2010 Freedom Award, Hilal-i-Imtiaz in 2010, Sitara-i-Imtiaz, Ramon Magsaysay Award in 2005, 1995 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders, and the UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights. She was also given award of a Legion of Honour from France, and in 2016 she was awarded honorary degree by the University of Pennsylvania Law School. 

The era of bravery, strength and courage of the iron lady ended in February 2018 when the shocking news of her death was aired. She died due to sudden heart attack. Asma Jahangir was the furious warrior who fought for the freedom of the ignored and unprivileged class of Pakistan, she has died but her mission has continued so has the fight against the inequality and injustice.