‘Ab dil nahin chahta’ said Asma Jahangir about travelling to India in recent years, it has changed.
Phaili hain fizaon mein iss tarah teri yaadein
Jis simt nazar unthi awaaz teri aaiyee
Sau baar chaman mehka sau baar bahaar aiyee
Duniya ki wohi raunaq dil ki wohi tanhai
You lit up my life as you did the life of thousands like me. Dear friend and mentor Asma Jahangir who would have thought I was seeing you for the last time on November 28 2017, the date is etched on my heart.
On reaching Lahore I wrote to you. You had just returned from Islamabad after a difficult day. But your home and hospitality was ready to welcome me. It was an unforgettable evening around your splendid table with family, friends, bonhomie. Then I heard from you the saddest words I had ever heard you speak. We were talking about the total embargo on visas. Friends from Pakistan were longing to come to India; there were family weddings, there was Jashn e Rekhta, personal bereavements. But visa doors had been slammed on the faces of all applicants. With exception though. I said to you, 'Why don't you come, you are the only one in Pakistan who still has a multiple entry visa'. Then came your heart wrenching words. 'It's not about me. It's about all of us here on this side of the border. Ab dil nahin chahta...we feel unwanted by a country we have stood by consistently for a quarter century despite every possible deterrent'.
Today her janaza procession will be led by her indomitable sister Hina Jilani and carried on the shoulders of women of WAF (Womens Action Forum) which she helped found in the 1970's. But none of us from this side will be there. It would have been so simple for dozens of us to have driven our vehicles for 6 hours. It is only 300 miles from Delhi to Lahore. We who have been choking back our tears ever since the news broke will be denied her last deedar.
We will sit in Delhi and recall the year 2000 when at the height of Kargil she brought to Delhi 72 women in two buses under the banner of WIPSA (Womens Initiative for Peace in South Asia). When the buses pulled into Ambedkar Bus Depot, many of us were there with flowers. The first one to disembark was a small slightly built woman, holding in her hands two white pigeons. The hands opened, the pigeons fluttered away in the Indian skies. That was Asma Jahangir.
The same woman who was the first to welcome a bus load of Indian women who had gone to Lahore on Bus of Peace led by Nirmala Deshapande and Mohini Giri. She came to receive us at Lahore's Faletti's Hotel with bangles and dupattas for each musafir, breaking both stereotypes, in this one Asma-stroke, both became symbols of power.
In her own country she fought the state at barricades whenever there was repression. Nirupama Subramaniam, Indian press corespondent in Pakistan, aptly describes her as 'fiesty fighter at the barricades that Pakistan's rulers frequently put up against their own people'. All human rights violations were her issues; people accused of blasphemy, victims of religious intolerance, people of Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, peacemongers ranged on both sides of the border of the two beleaguered nations.
She spoke fearlessly about state repression in Indian Kashmir; the net has her video clips about the killing of Burhan Wani which became the tipping point setting Kashmiri youth on fire. Her fearlessness of expression spawned enemies on both sides of the border who ranted and railed. Regardless, no one dared to thwart her up front. Pakistan awarded her its biggest national honour, India denied visa to everyone except to her. Her truth was the crucible that no one dared to confront. No assailant could assail this unassailable human dynamo.
It was in 1994 that she along with a handful of people from India and Pakistan formed the Pakistan India People's Forum for Peace and Democracy. Its mandate was to negotiate with both governments to respect people's desire to end hostilities between the two countries and do so by taking tough political decisions. The Forum slowly became the voice of the people and in 2003 she with Ashok Mitra, W Bengal's former Finance Minister, led 300 Indians and Pakistanis, ordinary citizens, in a spectacular march on the streets of Kolkata where hundreds of local people joined in solidarity.
And then came the chapter of her life called SAHR (South Asians for Human Rights) the dream to create a people's SAARC. She wanted to create a peace network in South Asia which unlike the official SAARC would be a live entity connected with people of the region. The first Indian to sign on was our former Prime Minister I K Gujral. The two of them steered this South Asian entity as a membership based organization which held its first election in 2002. Delhi swarmed with 700 delegates from 5 countries who pledged to make this region the template of peace.
Asma Jahangir, messiah of millions of violated women, will be taken today through her favorite city to her last resting place. The world will watch this unique funeral procession. We in India will be deprived because their TV channels are blocked here. But in our mind's eye, like the daffodils in Wordsworth's mind's eye, we will see it all. As a tribute to her, let both countries relax the visa regime so people can flow across the borders. Let both governments announce today the Asma Jahangir khuli sarhad policy. This is a fitting tribute to the diminutive woman who was larger than life itself. That will be her victory and victory of people. In the words of Faiz Sahib
Uththe ga An al Haq ka Nara
Jo mein bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho
Aur raj kareygi khalq e Khuda
Jo mein bhi hoon aur tum bhi ho!
(A cry will rise 'I am truth'
It is me, it is you
And God's people will rule
It is me it is you)