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India: An Unusual Funeral in Pakistan

A tribute to Asma Jahangir from India

Friday 16 February 2018, by siawi3


An Unusual Funeral in Pakistan

Written by Sabrangindia Staff

Published on: February 15, 2018

Asma Jahangir, the doyen of human rights and women’s liberation from Pakistan passed away due to a cardiac arrest on February 11, 2018 in Lahore, Pakistan. People across the world were drowned in deep sorrow and grief over the loss of this human being who was a symbol of resistance in authoritarian and Social media was stormed with condolence messages from across the world. One twitter handle read,

Photo credit: Geo TV

“A male friend once asked: why is #AsmaJahangir always so angry? What disturbed him perhaps was why she always spoke up and appeared utterly unafraid in this world dominated by masculinity’s apoplectic id. For me, this is what #AsmaJahangir was: she was brave enough to be angryâ€

True to her life, her funeral was also a symbolic resistance of immaculate stature with women and minorities participating in huge proportions giving it an egalitarian look. MarviSirmed in a Dailytimes article noted, “Asma Jahangir’s funeral was an emotionally draining yet an energising experience in unique ways. People of all ages, genders, ethnicities, religions, and social classes came to bid adieu to her. Only she could manage to amass such a wide spectrum of the society at such an occasion.â€

Trans people, women, men youngsters, older people, people across classes arriving in different vehicles and on foot, destitute women and many others became a part of the funeral. Activists who had spent their lives in struggles for people’s rights, people who ahd benefitted from her mere presence, religious scholars who admired her work and more.Clerics, Mullahs who admitted how courageous she was, all eager to pay their homage.

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, the funeral prayer was led by Haider Farooq Maudoodi, who opposes Islamists and is considered closer to Marxists. He is known for his views against political Islam, mullahism and exploitation of religion for political power as much as his reputation for revolt, especially from his father MaulanaAbulA’alaMaudoodi.farooq stood by the side of Asma in many of her political battles and supported her family.

But the most striking feature of the funeral was the presence of a large number of women who performed all her last rites, as Marvinoted, “The striking feature of this unique funeral ceremony was the predominant presence of women and the role they played throughout the event. At 11:45am when the body arrived at Asma’s home from the mortuary, women took it from the ambulance to the drawing room, which had been emptied already by removing all furniture. Women of the family and Asma’s comrades from Women’s Action Forum were all clad in identical black dresses with yellow scarves inscribed with women empowerment slogans.After almost three hours, when the body had to be shifted to the ambulance again for the funeral procession, it was these women who carried her to the ambulance.While the close family, her husband, children, and siblings sat in the ambulance, other women escorted the slow moving ambulance to the venue on foot.â€

In a truly exhilarating defiance of another regressive tradition, women shouldered Asma’s funeral bed – a practice conventionally considered a strictly male domain.

Unfortunately, the state of Pakistan lost yet another chance to redeem itself by maintaining a stark silence on the appeals made by the citizens’ demands of flying the national flag at half-mast or of arranging a state funeral for her. Asma was much bigger than a state funeral anyway. It was hardly surprising that no eulogy or two words of condolence were expressed in this solemn moment of the departure of the warrior for equality and liberation.

Asma was a fighter against every military regime and struggles for democracy and civilian supremacy. Not only did she struggle within Pakistan at the great cost of constant threats to her life, but also she criticized India for its treatment of the Kashmir issue. This did not go down well under the throats of hyper-nationalists and jingoistic elements of both countries and many concerted hate campaigns were propagated against her, even in her death.

But Asma was not the kind to fear criticism or uncalled hate. She got the kind of love that every human rights activist would consider themselves fortunate to receive. She was many things to many people. Her struggle gave hope to the alienated people of Balochistan of getting justice and civil liberties. A former chief minister of Balochistan, Akhtar Mengal tweeted on her death, “Balochis­tan is forever in your debt.†She had become a symbol of unity across borders. Not only Balochistan but she also supported the struggles against the staged police encounter of NaqeebullahMehsud in Karachi last month. She criticised the indiscriminate actions against the Pakhtuns in other parts of Pakistan. She also opposed the policies of enforced disappearances. Asma had been a strong critic of the disastrous state policy of using militancy as a tool of foreign policy that cost Pakistan massively, both in terms of human lives and the economy.

Asma also campaigned for peace between Pakistan and India which became a major issue for her in Pakistan. They started a campaign showcasing her picture with the Right wing Hindutva extremist Bal Thakeray, despite the fact that she had met him in her capacity as the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion investigating violence against Muslims in India.

On the other hand, her haters also spewed venom in the solemn moment of her death. One twitter troll said, “India lost their prime asset today & Pakistan is blessed to get rid of a traitor†Many ran a shameful campaign of trolling. This kind of filth on social media reflected a sickening mind-set of powerful interest groups who were challenged by Asma. These are the same people who ran a vicious campaign when she was alive. During February 2017, when Asma took to twitter to criticize the High Court on the ban on Basant and Valentine’s day, a troll asked for her daughter’s number to wish her Valentine’s. In a style, befitting to her stature, Asma replied saying, “Wish me one first†. Truly, even from the skies, Asma must have been taking on these trolls in such style.

Asma had mentioned in an interview that whatever she did, she never deviated from her core principles; she never sought glory or ever tried to benefit from adversity. In her death, this was proved beyond doubts. Salaams to this courageous liberated woman. May her tribe grow across national boundaries, as also the boundaries of religion, caste and class.