ISLAMABAD: Asma Jahangir was the voice of the voiceless. The poor and their issues were very close to her heart. It is a day to celebrate her services.
These were some of the views expressed about the fearless and iconic human rights champion during a discussion on how to take forward her legacy on Tuesday at the first Asma Jahangir Memorial Lecture, organised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) to mark her second death anniversary.
“I have witnessed Asma’s march towards self-realisation and how she cared about the issues of the voiceless. Today, no one speaks about the land reforms and about the rights of farmers. Labour hardships have multiplied, unemployment is increasing, women are exploited more than men and non-Muslims are exploited more than Muslims,” said HRCP honorary spokesperson I.A. Rehman while delivering the first memorial lecture held at a local hotel.
“Media is suffering due to pay cuts and non-payment of salaries. On the other hand, the government has been trying to further choke the media. The jobless are not getting jobs and those who have jobs are not getting salaries. There is a humanitarian crisis as in Karachi residential structures are being demolished but there is no one to raise voice for them the way Asma used to,” he added.
Mr Rehman said that every person should have the right of economic justice and no one should deprive people of their rights. “Our basic rights are the right to live a decent life, right to employment, paid holidays and form trade unions. It is the right of everyone to live free from hunger and improve their living conditions. It is said that a hungry man moves away from God and patriotism cannot be ensured on an empty stomach.”
He said the prime minister had recently said that nothing was more important than providing succour to the poor. “Economic justice must not, therefore, be sacrificed at the altar of national security.”
Responding to a question, Mr Rehman said that there was bonded labour across the country. “Though 45 per cent population of the country depends on agriculture income, farming has become uneconomic.
“We are living in a country where even electoral polls are not held transparently. The parliamentary committee on election rigging is not holding its meetings. We are not a welfare state and have become a security state. We need to understand that only people can ensure security and no institution can guaranty security.”
Replying to another question, Mr Rehman said that student unions should be revived without imposing conditions. “Unfortunately, there is a dictatorial mindset and we need to resist it.”
Rights activist Tahira Abdullah said that it was a day to celebrate the services of Asma Jahangir. “Today we are not allowed to go to Balochistan and speak about the issues of the province. Those who speak about the province are facing charges of sedition.”
HRCP secretary general Harris Khalique announced that the commission was also instituting the Asma Jahangir Award for Human Rights Defenders, and resuming the Nisar Osmani Award for Courage in Journalism and the I.A. Rehman Research Grant in Human Rights.
Published in Dawn, February 12th, 2020