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Asma Jahangir: bidding farewell to a feminist icon

Asma Jahangir: bidding farewell to a feminist icon
From Al Jazeera - February 15, 2018

People do not usually break societal barriers and disrupt the patriarchal order at funerals anywhere in the world, let alone in Pakistan. But on February 13, many women in Lahore, including myself, did just that by actively participating in a janaza, a Muslim funeral ritual, for the first time. On that day, contrary to orthodox funeral traditions observed in Pakistan, we did not only stand alongside men but we actually stood in front of them. Also, there were hardly any frowns directed at women who chose not to cover their heads.

The funeral that turned into a poignant display of women's resistance in Pakistan was forAsma Jahangir, the country's leading human rights lawyer. Even in her transition, Asma was guiding Pakistanis who always looked up to her, showing them how it is done. Her funeral was a staggering manifestation of her legacy, a radical send-off befitting a feminist icon. It was subversive not only because thousands of men and women stood next to each other praying, but also because those men and women were Christians, Sikhs, Shia, Sunni and Ahmadi. In the southern city of Hyderabad, a group of women and men also said her funeral prayer side by side in absentia.

These gatherings were an expression of progressive solidarity which is normally not permitted in public spaces in Pakistan. Because unfortunately, we are a society where women can get killed for marrying out of choice and mentally unstable can get beaten to death by a mob in the name of religion. And the country's human rights community is embattled.

Since the news of Asma's sudden death on February 11, we have been asking ourselves, now that she is gone, who will stand up for us?Who will have our back when and if we are confronted with disqualificationof another democratically elected prime minister? Who will fight for the downtrodden?

At her funeral there were lawyers, young and old, breaking down in sorrow. There was a burqah-clad acid attack survivor sobbing in a corner, an old woman with tears spilling down her cheeks asking aloud: "who will help us now?", an activist grieving: "our mother is gone". Father of peace activistRaza Khan, who was forcibly disappeared on December 2 last year, was also there. He looked lost when Asma's body was taken for burial, because she was Khan's legal counsel. Christian groups were also at the funeral, carrying wreaths of roses, because Asma was theirdefender.

Most of those who came to bid farewell, had been touched by Asma's courage at some point in their lives. Asma's work in Pakistan and beyond isiconoclastic. She had been UN's Special Rapporteur on as extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and on the freedom of religion or belief. At the time of her deathshe was the Special Rapporteur onthe situation of human rights inIran.Over the decades, she took on military dictators, religious extremists and violent misogynists both in court and on the streets.

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