Dr Ishfaq Jamal senior

Asma Jehangir and Indian liberals

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She was vociferous about rights of Balochis, they are mute about rights of Kashmiris

Asma Jehangir a leading human rights activist and lawyer of Pakistan and a well known face throughout the world died last month. Known for her determination, principles and courage all her life she fought for the rights of oppressed, vulnerable and religious minorities in Pakistan. Her lifelong struggle against dictatorship and authoritarianism and fight for the strengthening of democracy and supremacy of constitution in Pakistan is unmatchable. Her principled positions in various issues always kept her in limelight and she stood as a thorn in the eyes of many. Her death has been condoled far and wide  by people belonging to all walks of life from UN secretary general to many other eminent politicians and leading personalities of world shared their grief over her demise.

Rather than writing an obituary I will pick up a separate thread of her life i.e her courageous stand on Balochistan and draw a parallel between the stand of Indian liberal class on Kashmir Issue. Though the Kashmir and Balochistan conflicts are not exactly the same when it comes to  their genesis and complexities but what matches them is the human rights violations, mass killings, forced disappearances etc.

On Asma Jahangir’s death, the former Balochistan chief minister, SardarAkhtar Mengal, tweeted: “Balochistan is forever in your debt.”  And truly they are indebted as she was a champion and defender of human rights of Balochs. She bravely called a spade a spade and openly criticized Pakistan army for its human rights violations in Baluchistan. She confronted the powerful elements in government by speaking truth about the ground realities in Balochistan. Asma continued visiting Balochistan from time to time and  listened to the perspectives of the local people, produced neutral and professionally researched reports about the  ground situation in  Balochistan. She openly declared that Balochistan is being treated as a colony by establishment.

She was vociferous in  denunciations of MQM militancy and violence in Karachi and other parts of urban Sindh, and much vocal against the  religious extremism .Asma was also emphatic in her criticism of vicious state action against the MQM and  tribals as a reactionary policy of state and insisted on solving all the issues through peaceful means.

Today when most of the Indian liberal intellectuals  write obituaries  about Asma, it pinches me as a Kashmiri about their double standards. They praise Asma for her courageous  all out stand against establishment for  human rights violations , but in India where they enjoy a relatively  more liberal and democratic environment they had never been as vocal as Asma when it comes to human rights violations in Kashmir. Indian writers and intellectuals when felt an attack on principles of secular democracy in the recent times were much vociferous in defending the secular principles of Indian democracy and the campaigns like ‘award wapsi’, ‘not in my name’ had an ample impact on ground level. Let me remind you that Indian liberal and intellectual is much revered and valued in world for his stand on various issues.

Unfortunately when it comes to Kashmir they often appear as evasive as their Chinese peers on the Tibet. On most of the points the stand of Indian liberal on Kashmir is same as that of a jingoist nationalist. Considering Kashmir as an unbreakable part of India, and making false analogies of the thousands of killings to few dozen unfortunate killings of  our Kashmiri Pandit brethren, they too  advocate  for suppression of dissent of Kashmiris, though through lesser harsh means like pellets in place of bullets, rubber bullets in place of pellets. But suppression of voice is suppression be it through more harsh or less harsh means. It is anti-human, anti-liberal and anti-democratic.

Asma Jehangir always vehemently challenged the all powerful Pakistani military establishment for its human rights violations in Balochistan but we didn’t find anyone here in India even more recently having a clear cut stand against the likes of major Gogoi or major Aditiya. May be they feared the online trolls which is a far less threat than the assassination bids that were made or planned against Asma.

When it comes to principles one needs to stand firmly on them without shifting the sides and the liberal intellectual principles would never justify atrocities like that in Kashmir in the name of patriotism or whatsoever.

  • The writer can be reached at drishfaqjamal@gmail.com

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