Asma Jehangir is a tireless campaigner for universal rights. Asma is a person who sets much store in being a mother, a wife, a daughter and a friend. She does not feel that what she does is in any way, shape or form, unique. She simply believes that her so-called 'crusades' are simply issues that should concern and be taken up by all of us in the normal course of our lives.
Asma Jehangir was born in Lahore to Malik Ghulam Jilani who was then a civil servant. When Field Marshall Ayub Khan seized the reigns of power, he 'ebdoed' numerous politicians, including Mumtaz Daultana. Not caring much for the political 'etiquette' of the day, Jilani threw a dinner party in honour of Daultana. This act of defiance carried huge repercussions for Jilani and he subsequently resigned from the civil service because he found it morally unacceptable to work under a martial law set-up. This was the beginning of almost constant harassment for Jilani and his family: their land-leases were cancelled, which had become the family's sole source of income at that point - and an attempt was made on Jilani's life. His imprisonment followed soon after.
His incarceration became his daughter Asma's first tryst with the judicial establishment of the country eventually culminating in a lifetime's involvement with the law and the rights of the victimised. Asma Jehangir went on to make legal history when her case - wherein she challenged the legality of martial law - went all the way to the Supreme Court. Asma Jilani us the State became a landmark case in the annals of Pakistan's judicial history.
Asma Jehangir told about herself:
"First of all, I think there is a kind of misconception that I have devoted my whole life to human rights work. I think I have other things and other people whom I value in my life, that I spend my time on. I have my friends and my family, and I really don't look upon it as a mission that I am devoting my life to. I look upon it as a part of life. I am often surprised that this is not a part of other people's life. Because you come upon injustices all the time, so I have really never thought of it as il have made up my mind and this is what I going to do, this is my mission or something like that.' It has never occurred to me in that fashion.
"My upbringing was in a household that was politically very aware and we were part of the struggle my father went through; so that kind of training, that kind of an awareness and sensitivity was always there. Our upbringing definitely did sensitise us to people because at a very early age, it exposed to me injustices that most people of my generation and my class were protected at that time.
"The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) basically started because some of us were individually working just for political rights - at that time there was no mention of human rights - and we found that some of the things we did collectively, like the release of Jam Saqi, did have an effect so we felt that if we were to sit together, with one voice, we would be less vulnerable and we would have more effect. And then we went on to think it should not be confined to political rights, it should also include all other rights, such as the rights of women, of minorities and children.
"I must say that the 10 years I have worked with the people of HRCP, whether they are council members or ordinary members, I have never felt so satisfied in my life. These are all people who are totally committed to the cause. HRCP wasn't an NGO that was made because one had to make an NGO. It was a movement. I like it because I find no lack of commitment in people there. There are disagreements but there are no disagreements on principles. Plus, these are people with political experience who have had some struggle behind them and are, therefore, more generous about people making mistakes. Since the forming of the HRCP, the human rights situation has not changed except perhaps that, now, there is a voice and perhaps now that voice is institutionalised."
"I find, that after these past 50 years, people are in a deep depression and we really have to address these issues. There was no spontaneous reaction from the people, no celebrations or festivities or anything of the kind. It is quite clear that the country is in a deep depression; and although we often feel that things can not get any worse than this, I feel, things can get much worse than this in the next few years. It could I get really bad.
I "But, eventually things will have to get better. However, the way they will improve is not going to be because of the government or the elite leadership, or the political leadership, or the institutions of our country, most of which have actually crumbled. It will be the people of the country themselves who will bring about the change in society because they have had to struggle to fend for themselves at every level."