January 27th, 2021
By Ahmed Saeed
The civil society, and the legal fraternity of the country, will forever miss the gaping hole left behind by the fiery, enthusiastic, and vibrant personality of the late Asma Jahangir. But even though the late human rights champion is no longer here to raise the voice of those who are vulnerable and marginalized, the Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell (AGHS) – an organization that she herself founded – has taken the cue from her, and has successfully carried forth her legacy. Today it runs as it ran under her leadership, albeit without her mentorship.
The AGHS continues to uphold principles of human rights and rule of law, following the late icon’s lead, and on January 27, this seems even more important, as the nation marks its 69th birth anniversary.
Asma Jahangir was not one to bow down. The human rights champion battled three military dictators in Pakistan in her struggle for civil liberty and boldly spoke on issues that could even lead to imprisonment. A practicing lawyer, she used her profession to become the voice of the most vulnerable and the marginalized segments of society, in order to serve humanity.
Today AGHS has continued to help victims of social inequalities recieve justice and protection – since her death, it has expanded its services from Lahore to other cities in Punjab, says Nida Aly, the Executive Director of AGHS.
Alia Malik, a close companion of the late human rights defender, and senior advocate Lahore High Court says that more and more people are recieving benefits from the legal aid services. “People’s expectations from the legal aid organization have increased manifold following Asma’s passing, and all of us here are working with zeal to fulfill them,” she said.
“Asma Jahangir had especially dedicated her entire life to raising awareness among women about their rights,” says Hina Shahid, Coordinator of the Paralegal Training Project at AGHS. “She sought to accomplish that mission by organising paralegal training courses for women in remote and backward areas of Lahore initially. Now the number of participants and our reach has been increasing every year.”
Asma focused on providing legal help to those women who were imprisoned, destitute or helpless, and who often had nobody to plead on their behalf. She would visit prisons across the country and listen to the problems of women prisoners in their entirety. She would plead cases of women prisoners in courts.
“The name of Asma Jahangir is still a beacon of hope for the inmates of prisons across the country,” says Robina Shaheen, Women Protection Officer at the Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell.
Besides women’s issues, Asma also fought for the freedom of expression and press freedom throughout her life. She strongly believed that a free and independent press was vital to civil liberty.
As a tribute to her values and the civil liberties she fought for, AGHS launched a digital media platform, Voicepk.net, following her demise, to foster legal activism with journalism. The digital media platform focuses on reporting on important human rights issues that cannot be done on mainstream media.
Daughter of Asma Jahangir, and a senior journalist in her own right, Munizae Jahangir heads the platform.
“Voicepk.net is a digital platform that brings together journalists and lawyers to be the voice of the voiceless,” she says. “The platform not only brings forth the voices of the victims of injustice but also helps them get access to justice or legal support through the legal team of AGHS.”