July 16, 2021
By Hamid Riaz & Hassan Raza
On June 6, 2021, Member of the Punjab Assembly and former senior journalist Jugnu Mohsin was attacked by a group of armed men during a rally in Okara. The assailants pelted her vehicle with stones, battered it with sticks and even fired at her. However, luckily, Mohsin was able to escape the attack unharmed.
Voicepk.net sat down with Mohsin to discuss her motivations in continuing her work as a political activist and an elected official, despite her recent brush with death.
Jugnu Mohsin explains that her opponent and his father had always been undefeated in their constituency – Okara-II – for the last 33 consecutive years. But she alleges that the father-son duo had been able to maintain their hegemony only by instilling fear in the residents, and having them cow down in front of them.
“The people there felt like they did not have any choice when casting their vote,” she says. Even though Mohsin herself hails from a family of bureaucrats and politicians, the 2018 general elections have been her first foray into politics after which she consciously decided to take a stance against the perceived injustices faced by locals.
“I did not contest the elections to win, but to fight back, to represent the people.”
Between 2008 and 2018, Mohsin became deeply engaged in community work and development, which awarded her with a different and more unique standing for herself, and not what her extensive family background represented. Her goal to represent and stand up for the residents of Okara-II became the reason for her to go one step further and enter the political sphere. It was no going back for her now.
Her hard work and determination paid off, and in 2018, she was able to bag a seat in the Punjab Assembly with approximately 65,000 votes and a lead of 25,000 over her opponent. But she knew that he had not been able to digest his defeat even three years later.
MOHSIN RECOUNTS THE ATTACK
The chain of events began when Jugnu won over a major voting bloc which openly declared its support for her camp and extended an invitation to her to visit their village. Of course, Mohsin accepted.
“Just a few days before this, an ardent supporter of my opponent uploaded a video in which he called me derogatory things,” she recalls. “We all know that tarnishng a woman’s career through ‘character assassination’ is the most convenient thing for anyone in this society to do,” she says, adding that she drew the courage to stand firm from examples of all the brave and transgressive Pakistani women throughout history. “As they say, those who succumb to fear are as good as dead. I consciously chose to ignore the video – we had hoped those miscreants would not be stupid enough to pull off such a stunt, however they exceeded our expectations.”
Mohsin recalled that after concluding their speeches in the village on June 6, her caravan of about 15 vehicles was about to leave when the culprits suddenly began firing. The hosts who had invited her managed to chase the armed men off, and Mohsin and her crew carried on with yet more speeches and a rally. By the time everything concluded, it was already dark.
“That was when they [the attackers] climbed up onto our rooftops and assaulted us with a barrage of rocks, sticks and bullets. One of our cars was completely destroyed,” she said. “Our supporters were all set to fight back “for honour” but I managed to convince them to prioritise our safety. If we had responded with violence, we would have given the aggressors what they wanted. We would have discredited ourselves as representatives and messengers of the people.”
She stated that she and her supporters immediately registered a First Information Report (FIR) at a police station.
“When I looked at that video again, I realised he was boasting of things he planned to do to us which actually happened after our rally in the village,” she said. Following this, she submitted an application to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to arrest the people responsible for inciting this violence and to extend protection to her and her supporters.
Mohsin expressed her satisfaction with the district police, whom she lauds for taking immediate action and for cooperating with her and team, and the Punjab Government for offering support in her case should she need it. She provided she did not have any worries with regards to the official workings, rather her concerns lay with the possibility that this incident may make her attackers bolder.
“It is not just about my safety, it is about the safety of my people and my supporters.”
ATTACKS ON JOURNALISTS AND FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION
Mohsin provided that she had, prior to becoming a member of the provincial assembly, worked as a journalist for 28 years. However, she considers her career spans another two years as she has been writing columns and is active in broadcast.
“In the past 30 years of my career as a journalist, I have never seen such oppression as I am seeing now,” she said, referring to the spate of attacks against journalists and attempts to stifle freedom of expression in the country, especially Islamabad which has been referred to by the Freedom Network as among the most dangerous cities for journalists and media workers.
“This is absolute subjugation. Absar Alam was shot point-blank in broad daylight and the shooter managed to away with it… where is the accountability? Why has there been no follow-up? Matiullah Jan was abducted and then let go, probably because of the involvement of the international community. Did we ever find out who kidnapped him? Asad Toor was assaulted in his own home. There is absolutely no accountability.”
Prior to these most recent incidents, Mohsin mentioned the scores of journalists who were disappeared or murdered for exercising their right to free speech, including Hayatullah and Saleem Shahzad whose killers roam free even today. She also criticised blatant control of information, where journalists whose views are deemed “agreeable” are allowed to talk as much as they want while dissenting and critical voices are silenced.
“My husband, Najam Sethi, has been blacklisted for the past two years. He is not allowed to appear on television!” she provided a personal anecdote. “But we can all see for ourselves that the people who want to hear the truth are now drifting to YouTube.”
WOMEN IN POLITICS
Mohsin believes that the gender divide does not exist in the political sphere. In her experience, she feels that voters are not concerned about the sex of the candidate. Rather, what they really care about is that the person they want to see in office will get things done and deliver on their promises.
“Women should never think that their gender will keep them from becoming political workers or candidates,” she urges. “There is no difference in the capabilities of a man and a woman, certainly not in the eyes of the voter. These are the very voters who elected Fatima Jinnah, who was later defeated by the establishment. These are the very voters who sacrificed their lives for Benazir Bhutto, who elected her even though she was ousted by the establishment. And these are the very voters who are standing steadfast with Maryam Nawaz.”
Mohsin considers Maryam Nawaz currently the most popular politician in Punjab, and she owes this to the prevalent ‘family’ culture in the province.
“People are swayed when they see a lone woman braving the world for the honour and respect of her father.”