THE 1980s threw up some of the most committed, unwavering civil society personalities in Pakistan, individuals who would find themselves fighting one of this country’s toughest battles to secure fundamental rights. There were lawyers who pressed for justice and non-discrimination in society. There were journalists who took grave risks to keep the flag of freedom flying. There were other rights campaigners — teachers, other professionals, political activists — who marched ahead with their heads held high and who refused to bow to the oppressive regime of Gen Ziaul Haq. If anything, adversity added to their resolve and to the definitive tone of their brave slogans. Amongst them was Nigar Ahmed, who died in Lahore on Friday. She stood out in many ways — yet she blended so well with those pursuing just objectives that it was unthinkable to have the rights’ fight without her participation.
Her efforts reached their peak when Gen Zia was at the height of his powers. Firm and blessed with a temperament and training that frustrated the most intimidating of individuals on the other side, Nigar Ahmed was amongst the founders of the Women’s Action Forum — a platform that provided the much-needed stimulus to the opposition against the military dictator when political parties and others were finding it tough to make a loud enough impact. WAF, a source of some of the most celebrated, proudest stories of resistance from the time, came in 1981. In 1986, Nigar Ahmed joined hands with the famous lawyer and rights crusader Shehla Zia to set up the Aurat Foundation. Over the next three decades, she and her organisation would have a strong role in the furthering of women’s rights and generally in all kinds of human rights campaigns. The observations that have followed her departure at the age of 72 recall how she led with a resolve that surprised just as it inspired and set souls free. Nigar Ahmed is no more but there is a lot to learn from her shining example.
Published in Dawn, February 26th, 2017
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