brown university health education Honouring asma jahangir’s legacy journeys to democracy

Members of what I call asma’s tribe filled the over 250-seater auditorium – her friends and family members, plus activists and followers not just from pakistan but india, USA, UK iran and elsewhere, people who believe in her vision of fundamental human rights. Many had travelled from distances like toronto, los angeles, washington D.C. And elsewhere to join the memorial.

Coincidentally, these events took place just ahead of the first asma jahangir conference (#AJCONF2018) being held in lahore this weekend, 13-14 october 2018, organised by AGHS legal aid cell and the supreme court bar association of pakistan. Brown university tours in 2010, asma jahangir was elected as the first female president of the SCBA, a victory that gave her more satisfaction than all her international accolades and recognition.

A host of human rights and legal luminaries from around the world have confirmed their participation at the lahore conference, which aims to celebrate asma jahangir’s vision and legacy.

Fittingly, participants will discuss strategies to promote justice by “strengthening the rule of law and democracy, protection of fundamental rights, strengthening the independence of the judiciary and mainstreaming gender”.

On a serious note, alston brought up two of asma jahangir’s most critical contributions to the human rights discourse. In 2003, it was she who first picked up the use of drones as a human rights issue. Later, she “single-handedly” put sexual orientation on the human rights agenda simply by including it in her report.

Ayesha jalal, historian and asma jahangir’s old friend from lahore, termed asma a “maverick” who put human rights on the map in pakistan and changed the national discourse and challenged the military narrative. She could do so, stressed prof. Jalal, because “she did the homework, which was political” not based on rhetoric. She misses her friend on a personal level and also politically — asma jahangir’s departure has left a “loud silence”.

Speakers included asma jahangir’s sister and AGHS legal aid cell co-founder hina jilani, open society foundation’s founder george soros, international crisis group’s samina ahmed, and prominent journalists and authors steve coll and ahmed rashid. Brown university newspaper many from the audience also shared their memories.

Peppering her talk with anecdotes, munizae recalled childhood memories of the 1983 women’s protest in lahore when her mother was arrested — the children got their first whiff of teargas. Ten years later, the salamat masih ‘blasphemy’ case propelled asma into the limelight and into the crosshairs of the religious extremists. The family came under attack too “and we all suffered”.

Why was she doing this? Asma had explained to her children that salamat, 12, was the same age as her son. He urged asma not to defend him saying, “let me hang, to save the rest of my family, let me be the sacrificial lamb”. Brown university staff behind this case as with most such allegations, was a property dispute. How could she not help him?

Then a newspaper ran a front-page story headlining the accusation of ‘blasphemy’ against her. Asma jahangir piled her three children into the car along with their nanny and drove to the newspaper owner’s house where she left them. “she called up the media baron and said, since you have given my name and my life is under threat, you may as well start looking after my children because I’ll be killed”.

The second event honouring asma was a seminar at the fletcher school of law and diplomacy at tufts university on 25 september, hosted by ayesha jalal, on “democracy and human rights in south asia: commemorating asma jahangir’s life and legacy”.

Featured speaker nobel laureate amartya sen could not make it to tufts at the last minute due to illness. He and asma shared a longtime friendship and he had spoken at the celebrating asma event members of her tribe organised at harvard university on 17 feb, amartya sen had read a paper later published as an opinion piece in the news and elsewhere, asma jahangir, my fearless friend. Brown university parents weekend barely a year earlier, in january 2017, asma jahangir had delivered the inaugural amartya sen lecture, religious intolerance and its impact on democracy, at the london school of economics.

The third event honouring asma was at the crisis group’s ‘in pursuit of peace’ gala dinner on 3 october 2018 in new york. “it is critical to honour asma’s legacy …to work wherever human rights are systematically threatened,” said alexander soros of the crisis group.

The ICG also announced a new asma jahangir analyst position, “to serve as a tribute to asma and her commitment to justice”. The position will be filled by a young analyst working on conflict and human rights in south asia, myanmar, venezuela, burundi or elsewhere.