Born in November 1940, Justice (retd) Nasira Javid Iqbal continues to exude an aura of youthfulness. While her trim figure and smart attire do contribute to this demeanour, it is her boundless energy and ‘on the move’ attitude that is mainly responsible for her appearing as such. In fact many of us marvel at her ability to pursue purposeful activities almost around the clock. She does now complain of forgetfulness and ‘digressing on ideas’, but nonetheless carries on with aplomb.
As an eminent lawyer, she has travelled the world over to attend conferences and deliver lectures, and of late, has been travelling within the country for activities associated not only with legal matters but relief work for fellow citizens affected by various calamities. She is also often called upon by the electronic media to air her views on various socio-political issues.
Iqbal has the advantage of being born into a family endowed both materially and intellectually, and thus has had the privilege of being amongst distinguished company since her childhood. Her late father, Dr Abdul Waheed, having a doctorate as well as Bar-at-Law degree, was a highly educated gentleman of the Muslim community in pre-partition days, and though he ended up managing the ‘Feroz Sons’ family business of printing and publishing, he had been a teacher as well as a representative of his country at the League of Nations in Geneva.
Her late mother, Saeeda Waheed, was an equally intelligent and dynamic lady in her own right and had been an active participant of the Pakistan Movement along with her husband. In Pakistan, she distinguished herself through active social work, epitomised by the creation of the recognised Fatima Memorial Hospital which she managed most efficiently till almost the last years of her life. As a tribute to her mother, Iqbal lately compiled her biography, which comprehensively not only reveals her mother’s multifarious qualities, but also gives an intimate picture of her extended family.
It was amidst significant activities and people that she grew up, along with her older brother (late) Khalid Waheed, who went on to be a brilliant entrepreneur in his own right. “However as a child, I was often on my own, as my mother was busy with her philanthropic pursuits and Bhaiya (Khalid), was mostly in boarding school. Also, my sister Shaheema had been adopted by my maternal aunt as she had no child of her own.”
Much can be written about her family as well as her life as the spouse of Justice (retd) Javid Iqbal, distinguished judge and later Chief Justice of the Lahore High Court, and also very significantly, the son of the revered poet and philosopher Allama Mohammad Iqbal. However, Iqbal’s own academic and social achievements constitute a long narrative in itself, and she has carved a niche for herself as a distinguished Pakistani woman in her own right.
Though a home maker for the first 10 years of her married life, she later opted to study law, and eventually ended up with a master’s degree in law from the Harvard Law School, USA, with honours in 1986. This latter degree was acquired at the time her two sons, Munib and Waleed, now practising lawyers themselves, were also abroad for higher studies.
As a matter of principle, enforced by her, she abstained from appearing in the High Court until her husband retired, but eventually went on to become a judge of the same in 1994 and remained so till 2002. Iqbal was also elected as a President of the Lahore High Court Bar Association for the years 2009-2010. It is a fact that even prior to her married life, she had been academically brilliant and a position holder and this intellectual prowess obviously continued in her legal studies as well. She continues to be sought after as a member of various organisations and has received a number of awards from variety of forums.
Amongst other honours, she is the president of the Punjab Medical Health Association as well as the president of a well reputed activist group called ‘The Concerned Citizens Society of Pakistan (CCP)’, which has the motto ‘Unite for the rule of law’, and was initiated during the lawyers’ movement against dictatorship in 2007.
In the context of being a part of the legal fraternity, she feels “There is a dire need to reinforce legal ethics. The lawyers’ community has rendered many services, but there is a need to emerge as a much more disciplined and ethical community. They must not forget that it was distinguished lawyers who made the creation of Pakistan possible, whether it was Allama Iqbal, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Abdur Rab Nishtar and other such individuals. It is the character of such lawyers that the legal fraternity must emulate.”
As a woman lawyer who has also worked on laws related to the empowerment of women, such as the drafting of a bill against domestic violence in 2008, or a legal framework for women’s right to land, she realises the challenges faced by women in general. “A woman has to work twice as hard as a man to achieve half as much,” she says.
In her opinion, “The most important thing for a society to improve is imparting quality education to its women. If you educate a woman you eventually educate a whole family. The standard of living improves and the concept of family planning can be enforced. And education is not only about reading and writing, it is about emancipation and the ability to think for oneself.
Unfortunately, often women themselves contribute to gender biases when they give preferential treatment to their sons. It is important that women help other women to improve their lives.”
She is especially concerned about the financial empowerment of women, especially those who belong to the villages and work day in and day out to help their families. She feels, “Small loans should be provided to help women establish income generating activities, but these loans must be indigenously sponsored rather than through foreign agencies. Help in these matters should be initiated by privileged community members themselves,” and gives the example of an organisation called ‘Akhuwat’, initiated in 2001 in Lahore by a group of citizens wanting to help the needy, and who have devised a successful way of giving small interest free loans to needy people wanting to improve their lives through some concrete action.
Iqbal reiterates the importance of educating women and is especially vociferous about the need for women to realise its importance. “They must think for themselves and make important decisions themselves. I know through personal experience that it is a big mistake when women allow proxy decisions to control their conduct. One must make informed and intelligent choices in order to make the best of one’s life,” she concludes.