Video Editor: Mohd Irshad Alam
“...sometimes even shouting for justice gives you some satisfaction that you’re being heard. And you must be heard. You knock, and you knock, and you knock, and you knock, and you knock, and one day they are going to hear.”
- Asma Jahangir
Pakistan’s voice of resistance. India’s beacon of peace. Who was Asma Jilani Jahangir?
A “fearless fighter” – that’s what her friends and family, who had gathered in New Delhi to mourn her death, called Asma.
Asma, a prominent figure in the peace movement in South Asia, passed away at her home in Lahore on 11 February. Besides fighting for a border-less friendship between India and Pakistan, the lawyer and human rights activist was a fierce campaigner for democracy and the right to dissent.
Asma led a group of young women in Lahore to welcome the ‘Bus of Peace’, ferrying Indian women to the other side of the border in a bid to galvanise tensions after the Kargil war. The Indian contingent was led by veteran Gandhian Nirmala Deshpande. Onboard the bus that day was journalist Rami Chhabra.
"When we reached the other side, young girls gave us blue scarves and blue bangles as symbols of peace. It was a bid to restore the dignity and femininity that is associated with bangles – something that was destroyed during the Partition, when baskets of bangles had arrived for men to say they were not fit to be men. Riots had broken out after that. Asma led the women to restore that dignity and peace." - Rami Chhabra, veteran journalist
Asma Jahangir’s activism and resistance came with a price. But prisons, house arrests or political intimidation could not deter her spirit.
Activist Kamla Bhasin recalled the time Asma was in the same room with the late Bangladesh military dictator, Hussain Muhammad Ershad.
"We had gone for a SAHR (South Asians for Human Rights) conference to Bangladesh and former prime minister IK Gujral was with us. He had been invited by former president and dictator Hussain Muhammad Ershad. When we went there, Gujral sir introduced Asma and I to him, but she looked at him and said, “Gujral sir, I don’t shake hands with dictators.”" - Kamla Bhasin, activist
On 15 February, a number of people whose lives Asma touched came together for an evening of thoughts, poetry, and music at the Indian Habitat Centre in New Delhi.
Addressing the gathering, former member of the Planning Commission Sayeeda Hamid shared her last memory of her long-time friend. “Due to strict visa norms, a lot of friends from Pakistan usually cannot cross borders, but because Asma had a multiple entry visit visa and she could easily come to India. The last time when I met her in November, I had asked her, ‘why don’t you plan a visit to India?’ The words she said still haunt my ears,” she said.
"She told me, “Sayeeda ab dil nahi chahta. Because the cause for which we have fought so much, now it feels that cause is lost. We feel unwanted in India. All doors have closed.”" - Sayeeda Hamid
As the memorial service drew to a close, with a heavy heart and blurry eyes, I joined in the chorus.
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