August 27, 2021
By Xari Jalil & Hamid Riaz
Towering feminist scholar, educationalist, and noted human rights activist, Rubina Saigol, breathed her last in a Lahore hospital on August 27.
The news of her death has been flooding social media with outpourings of grief and loss, especially from her fellow activists from the civil society, comparing her to the loss they faced when Saigol’s own long-time comrades-in-arms, Asma Jahangir and I.A Rehman passed away.
Advocate Nida Usman Chaudhry, the founder of Women in Law and the niece of Rubina Saigol explained to Voicepk.net that her aunt had been battling Covid-19 – quite possibly the delta variant. On the seventh day of her illness, she was shifted to the hospital in critical condition, and soon after was diagnosed with multiple organ failure which resulted in her death.
“But even while she was gasping for breath in the hospital, she messaged me and her last message was her concern for the Afghan women. That’s the kind of person she was,” explains Nida. Her commitment to the rights of women in the country has inspired a generation of women’s rights activists including those closest to her- like Nida Usman herself.
A true fighter
Rubina Saigol was one of the co-founding members of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) and stood shoulder to shoulder with Asma Jahangir in resisting Zia’s draconian and anti-women Hudood Ordinance. Her activism led to her being arrested by the Zia regime and being jailed but no amount of repression could break her commitment.
So unwavering was her commitment that even while battling for her life at a hospital she participated in a WAF seminar on August 14 from the hospital via her phone according to her niece Nida.
An activist who knew her in a personal capacity explains that unlike several public intellectuals of her stature Rubina was not the least bit snobbish.
A glance at the dozens of interviews she gave defending the rights of women reveals her to be a person who was at ease in explaining overly complex ideas about different issues with witty humor – explaing so that the ideas could be easily absorbed by the general public listening to her. Most of her work looked at ideas and policies through a gender lens.
Tanveer Jahan, Executive Director at the Democratic Commission for Human Development (DCHD), told Voicepk.net that in addition to being a politically astute activist and intellectual she was also a guide to many young progressives across the country.
“When my daughter was doing her research work Rubina helped her open-heartedly, sharing references and guiding her with everything,” explains Tanveer.
Rubina Saigol’s seminal book ‘The Pakistan Project: A Feminist Perspective on Nation & Identity’ deals with the evolution of the idea of Pakistan from the time of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan to Jinnah and extending to post-independence years. Unlike many male activists before her who have authored similar books on the history of the idea of Pakistan her book analyses the gendered contradiction evident in the discourse of the leaders of the Pakistani movement, in particular the role of hyper-masculine and gendered ideas in the development of modern Pakistani nationalism.
In addition to feminism, her work explores themes as diverse as militarization, terrorism, and state of education in Pakistan. She was a vehement critique of the military’s interventions in the democratic processes and was able to link her feminist analysis to the policies of authoritarian regimes in the country.
Above all Rubina Saigol will always be remembered as one of the most important chroniclers of the history of the Pakistan’s women’s rights movement with several pieces in publications such as the Express Tribune and Dawn’s Herald magazine.
Nida Usman stated that due to the circumstances of her death and the prevailing Covid-19 situation a public funeral will (regrettably) not be held.
Rubina Saigol leaves behind one sister, one brother, and eight nieces and nephews as her closest family