In memory of Asma Jahangir: Pakistan’s larger than life Iron Lady

February 12, 2018 HUMAN RIGHTS , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , Pakistan

Jean-Marc Ferré/UN photo



Imad Zafar



There is an atmosphere of sadness and grief across the country. The iron lady Asma Jahangir is no longer with us. She passed away following a cardiac arrest and left the nation in mourning. The loss of Asma Jahangir is one of the biggest losses for our country after Abdul Sattar Edhi. Asma, the iron lady whose life was spent fighting extremism, dictatorships and for the right of minorities has left a vacuum which can never be filled. A brave lady who stood against the tyranny of the military dictator Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who challenged the dictator Pervez Musharraf and who even challenged the rotten self obsessed defense and religious narratives; her contribution for the rights of minorities and common citizens will be remembered forever.

We have never seen such a courageous person who fought usurpers and stood with the oppressed all her life. At the age of 21 Asma Jahangir fought a legal battle against General Yahya, who ordered her father’s arrest, and won the case. She won the battle in court against martial law, the then law administrator forced to announce the end of civil martial law.


In General Zia’s time, the darkest period in Pakistan’s history, she stood against the dictator. It was a time when the big names of human rights, politics and the legal fraternity were not ready to fight Zia’s martial law. She was arrested, beaten and once her clothes were torn apart during her protests against the imposition of martial law.

She fought for women’s rights and won the case for women in Pakistan to marry whoever they wanted. She saved many Christians and Ahmadis from false blasphemy accusations and was one of the prominent leaders of the famous Lawyer’s Movement which brought an end to martial law. She was also the voice of marginalized sections of society and was the torchbearer for democracy and the constitution.

One can write thousands of pages about her contribution to strengthen the fragile democracy and protect the rights of the countrymen. Her stance against the military establishment for their role in political manoeuvring, and their rotten narrative of nurturing the fundamentalists in the name of strategic assets remains unmatchable with anyone. Her stance and resistance on the enforced disappearances, faith merchants and extremists caused her many troubles. She was threatened, declared a “blasphemer’, and a foreign funded agent but never bowed down to any of the oppressors.


We in Pakistan have been taught that Jinnah, the founder of the country, wanted to see Pakistan as a state that loved its citizens like a mother. But we never saw the state acting like a mother. It was Asma Jahangir who acted like the mother of society and she performed the duties which were the responsibilities of the state. It was her struggle against the extremists and dictators which actually created a space where progressives started raising questions against the tyrannies of these groups and institutions.

She was a daughter of the soil who despite being accused of treason, blasphemy and an enemy of religion, devoted all her life to fighting the forces spreading ignorance, hatred and extremism. The battles she fought against extremism, intolerance, women and minorities’ oppression and for strengthening democracy and the constitution in a society full of fanatics were remarkable. She had no fear at all and this made her very unique. Perhaps nature chooses a special kind of DNA and soil to make people like Asma, who instead of working for their own personal gains, always fight for the rights and do not hesitate to sacrifice anything in the process.


She was disliked by the establishment, the mullahs and faith merchants but she never feared them, in fact she taught the people in Pakistan to fight for their rights. The insecure people, faith merchants, extremists, dictators and establishment all tried to bring Asma Jahangir down in her life and now even after death, but her stature is too big to be brought down by the hate mongers and dwarfs. Her battle for civilian supremacy and democracy is a golden chapter that will always be written in glowing words. During my journalism and broadcasting career I had the opportunity to meet many people who were considered great people but upon watching them closely I found out that they were dwarfs and only working for their own personal agendas.

The making of a documentary on women’s rights led me to meet the iron lady Asma Jahangir and in that brief meeting I realized I had met a true legend of modern times. Shaking hands with her during the Lawyer’s Movement was the other opportunity to meet this lady for a brief time and today I realize that meeting Asma Jahangir was the greatest thing to happen to me, moments that will always remain the best assets of my life. I had a hero and an ideal and can give my children the reference of Asma Jahangir that she is the hero of our country and that I had the honor of meeting my hero.

In a country where even heroes and anti-heroes are given birth by the invisible forces and ignorant faith merchants, having a personality like Asma was a blessing and we will certainly teach our generations to come that Asma Jahangir was a real hero you can admire. Though we know that Asma was an ideology in itself and ideologies never die, deep down in the heart it is grief and pain that we will never see her and will never again listen to her.


Her presence was a kind of protection from the oppressors. Whenever people went missing or were abducted, we always had the hope that Asma Jahangir would get justice and one day bring them back. When the minorities, women and children were marginalized we always had the belief that Asma Jahngir would stand up for them and that she will get them their fundamental rights of peaceful existence. When the invisible forces tried to hatch a conspiracy against democracy we felt no danger as we knew Asma Jahangir was there and would become the voice of the masses and never let the usurpers damage democracy.

In a society obsessed with war against neighbors she was the hope of challenging the rotten narratives of conquering enemies by waging war. Today women enjoy the freedom of marriage by choice, the gift of Asma Jahangir. The return of Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan and the little freedom of the judiciary is the result of Asma Jahangir’s movement against Musharraf. She even criticized the courts openly for their controversial decisions and judicial activism.

It seems we have lost our mother and unfortunately the loss of a mother is neither replaceable nor bearable. Today every single oppressed and pro-democratic person in the country has become an orphan. Unfortunately people like Zaid Hamid and others are spreading venom against her even after death and the brainwashed section of society which can be called zombies are criticizing and labelling her a blasphemer and agent of enemies without even realizing that she fought for their rights too. The answer to these hatemongers can be given only by acting on the principles and ideologies of Asma Jahangir and making efforts to fulfil her dreams of a society where peaceful progress and laughter’s will win over hate and ignorance.


Salute the iron lady who taught us the meaning of bravery, honesty and humanity, who taught us how to stand against usurpers and who fearlessly and indiscriminately fought for the rights of each and every single individual of the country. Rest in Peace lady, you were the true symbol of bravery, grace, truth, constitution and democracy. Malcolm Muggeridge said “Never forget that only dead fish swim with the stream.” Unfortunately the world is full of people who like to swim with the stream and go with the wind; little do they know they are already dead. Asma Jahangir was one of the few individuals who always went against the wind and the flow of the stream and showed the true meaning of life. The iron lady was larger than life. We loved her a lot but it seems God loved her more and called her back to the heavens.





Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar

Imad Zafar is a journalist based in Lahore. He is a regular Columnist/Commentator in newspapers. He is associated with TV channels, radio, newspapers, news agencies, political, policies and media related think tanks.

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