The memorial session under way.—White Star
The memorial session under way.—White Star

KARACHI: Cultural space T2F late on Monday evening held an event to reflect on the life and achievements of eminent journalist and human rights activist I.A. Rehman, who passed away in Lahore early that morning.

The event was moderated by Asad Iqbal Butt and the speakers were distinguished human rights campaigners who had worked alongside Mr Rehman in their respective careers.

Former chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Zohra Yusuf said her relationship with Mr Rehman was on multiple levels. She met him for the first time at Viewpoint magazine’s office when Gen Ziaul Haq had imposed strict censorship rules. He was editor-in-chief of the magazine. It was one of the few publications that challenged military rule at the time. It had almost become a practice that whenever she’d visit Lahore, she’d go to that office first. And it made his colleagues and co-workers happy when Mr Rehman joined as director of the HRCP. The late activist along with Aziz Siddiqui helped the commission move forward. Mr Rehman would be consulted on every important issue. “His wisdom and ideas were, and still are, unmatched.”

Ms Yusuf said on a personal level whoever Mr Rehman met he’d give them a ‘special status’, which is why his departure from this world has saddened many. When he would come to Karachi for a few days to honour his commitments, he would also make sure to visit his friends. “I haven’t met a human being with such humanity and compassion.”

‘He did not associate himself with any philosophy’

Mr Butt said he got to know Mr Rehman better during a visit to India in 1994. He would look after all those who had travelled with him. He knew everyone by name and their backgrounds. He never made his co-workers feel that he was a towering figure.

Former co-chairperson of the HRCP Uzma Noorani said the news of Mr Rehman’s death came as a huge shock. She was always awestruck by him. He was a larger-than-life personality.

“He was a rare person who could speak on every topic under the sun — be it human rights issues, art or film... We would seek his opinion on every subject. There were times when we would get emotional, but it was Rehman sahib who kept us on the right track.”

Ms Noorani said that after Asma Jahangir’s death, his co-workers said to Mr Rehman that he’d now be their spokesperson. He denied the offer because he was never interested in getting titles. Today, when messages are pouring in after his demise, it is an indication that all of those who knew him felt that he was the closest to them. “A year ago, we went to Mithi (Sindh). He stood there upright addressing the haris (farmers). We could tell that he was grief-stricken by the fact that their status hadn’t changed. They were still living in poverty,” she said.

“He felt his duty to raise his voice for the oppressed segments of society. He did not associate himself with any philosophy. He was a humanist. Be it someone from the right wing or left wing, as long as the issue raised by them was right, he would stand with that person.”

She said Mr Rehman was also a witty person with a good sense of humour even in his sunset years. “There was a twinkle in his eyes.”

Ms Yusuf said Mr Rehman made efforts to bring peace between India and Pakistan in particular and the region in general. He with Asma Jahangir and the likes of Dr I.K. Gujral (India) and Dr Kamal Hossain (Bangladesh) set up South Asians for Human Rights. He wanted peace in the region from the bottom of his heart.

With regard to his interest in films, she said Z.A. Bhutto established NAFDEC. Rehman sahib and Faiz Ahmed Faiz were part of it. They organised festivals and he also used to write on films for its magazine.

“This goes to show how diverse his interests were and how deep his knowledge was. He had a special commitment to freedom of the press for which he worked all his life. When Newsline magazine was launched by a group of women, Rehman sahib was one of its strong supporters. At one point in time he was also pretty active in the PFUJ,” she added.

Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2021

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