While celebrated figures have millions of admirers, they also – almost always – have many opponents as well. These opponents spend their days maligning the celebrated individual, not realizing that their criticism is unwittingly making the latter only stronger in his/her resolve. The case of Madam Asma Jahangir narrates a similar story.
I had a chance to observe and learn from Asma Jahangir during the many Joint Action Committee meetings that I attended over the years. I vividly recall how the meetings would take on a life of their own when Madam Asma Jahangir would chair them.
It was year 2001 and I was working with War Against Rape as a volunteer. We were in a bit of a dilemma at the time. War Against Rape had been pursuing a case for almost 11 years when suddenly we found out that the plaintiff wanted to forgive the offender and settle the case.
We requested Madam Asma Jahangir to help us understand the legal options we had if we wanted to keep the case alive. She categorically told us, “We can’t decide on behalf of the family. If the bereaved family no longer has the energy to fight the case, we have no right to pressurize them. That said, rape is a crime against the state and it is the state’s responsibility to ensure that justice is served.”
In the coming years during my work as a women rights activist this statement served to keep me focused. It was not about me, it was about the woman who had suffered the torture and any course of action had to be decided according to her wishes.
Another aspect of Madam Asma Jahangir’s work that greatly inspired me was the, Dastak Shelter Home. Dastak was a different world altogether where women of all ages did not merely seek shelter from the life of abuse and torture that they had left behind but also became pillars of strength for each other. I was fortunate enough to be among those who spent many a days at Dastak educating women about their medico-legal rights as survivors of violence.
Had it not been for Asma Jahangir, these women might not have had any option but to surrender to domestic violence and abuse.
To all those who continue to malign her, I have but one question: how many battered and bruised women have you helped in your lives?
For me Asma Jahangir’s opponents are no better than those who subject women to physical, mental and sexual torture and complain when another woman comes to their rescue. Such people are entirely unaware of the joy that comes with helping others. They live meaningless lives, critiquing change-makers in the hope of finding short-lived fame.
There is a lot that I have learnt from Madam Asma Jahangir and I pledge to continue her mission for humanity till the end of my days. What about you?