Monday, February 12, 2018

Mukhtar Mai on Asma Jahangir: “Who will dare to speak for us now?”

Asma's mission might continue, but her voice is lost. Who will dare to speak for us now?

In this photograph taken on October 4, 2014, Pakistani human rights activist and Supreme Court lawyer Asma Jahangir gestures during an interview with AFP in Lahore

I used to call her, ‘Bari baji’. And she called me, ‘Mukhtaran’.

Even before I met Asma Jahangir, I knew about her. I had seen her, from afar, participate in rallies about my case. Although we hadn’t met till then, she continued to seek justice for me in the media. Then, later, she also sent her associates to Muzaffargarh to gather more information about my case.

But the first time I came face-to-face with Asma Jahangir was in 2005. She invited me to attend a rally for women’s rights in Lahore. During our meeting at her office, she was warm and encouraging. She heard my story all over again and appreciated my efforts. “Well done,” I recall her telling me, “Pakistan needs more women like you. You are very brave.” On our way, she kept repeating the same words, “Don’t be silent. We cannot be silent.”

I remember walking out of the meeting inspired, to work like she did fearlessly and for a larger cause. In fact, I decided on that day to set up a women’s shelter in my hometown.

Over the years, we kept in touch. She would keenly follow my case. When I was put under house arrest, she would call me every day, for 12 days consecutively, to convince me to be strong.

Actually, she was the one who convinced Aitzaz Ahsan to represent me in the Supreme Court. And when in 2011, the Supreme Court upheld the acquittal of five accused in my rape case, I was shattered. But Asma baji called me and told me again to be brave.

The last time I saw her was in 2013. The encounter wasn’t planned. I was in Islamabad for a hearing of my case, when I ran into her on the steps of the Supreme Court. As I was walking up, carrying my appeal, I heard a loud voice, “Mukhtaran! What are you doing here?” I told her that I was still pursuing my case. She seemed happy to know that.

This is a great loss. Tell me an issue in Pakistan that Asma baji has not raised her voice for? Not just women’s rights or minority’s rights, she speaks for everyone. Wherever you look, there she would be, at the very forefront, shouting for justice.

When I switched on the TV and read about her sudden demise, I felt an electric shock go through my body. We, as a country, have yet to replace Benazir Bhutto, how will we ever replace Asma Jahangir?

She meant so much to me. I have met many people in my life who promised to keep raising my cause for justice but then forgot about me. Baji never did.

In a way I agree, even with her gone life will not stop. But the way it moves forward will change. Take the example of Edhi sahib. It is just not the same without him.

Her mission might continue, but her voice is lost. Who will dare to speak for us now?

Mai is an activist. In 2002, a jirga ordered the gang rape of Mai, whose younger brother was accused of an affair with a woman.