on the loss of Asma Jahangir – and celebrating women

Ever since Asma Jahangir’s passing – may she rest in eternal peace, may she rest at last – sadness seems to be my natural state. I’ve never hurt this much over the loss of someone I did not personally know. (Here’s kind of why.) I think about her, I see her face on my FB feed or Twitter, and this deep, deep sadness overcomes me. I cannot believe she’s gone. I cannot believe the world – Pakistan! Pakistan!!! – has lost such a person. I am disappointed in myself for not having celebrated her while she was alive. I never even reached out to her to tell her how much I valued her, how much I looked up to her, what a relief her existence in our world was, especially in Pakistan. I could’ve easily done this, since she was active on Twitter (and she even followed me! What a fool I was to never send her a DM! God forgive me). Just a couple days before we lost her, I made a mental note to myself to reach out to her. I saw something about her, or a tweet of hers, I really don’t remember, and I smiled and was like yeah I need to write to her. And I didn’t. And next thing I know, I wake up to “RIP, Asma” on my Facebook, and my heart stopped. And in a panic, I google “Asma death” to see which Asma this was. And while I’m doing this, the thought running through my head was, “Asma Jahangir has been killed. This was only a matter of time. Of course we’d kill yet another female activist, a feminist human rights lawyer, a woman who’s been fighting for women and racial and religious minorities all over Pakistan for decades. Of course we can’t let her live. And it has to have been her speech at the dharna/protest, #PashtunLongMarch [google this! Twitter search this, people.].” That speech of hers is everything, after all. And when Google said it was indeed Asma Jahangir … I froze (but somewhat relieved she hadn’t been murdered – she died of a heart attack). And I contacted my friend Bia later that day and expressed the pain I was feeling, and we spoke for hours about what had happened and what it meant for us, for Pakistani women, for Pakistani women in Pakistan, for minorities in Pakistan. I’m still not over it, and I pray I never get over it because this woman’s life deserves to be felt this deeply.

That whole weekend was tearsome for me. All I could think was, Asma is gone. With her around, the world somehow felt much safer, Pakistan felt so much safer, women’s lives felt more important… and with her gone, it’s all the opposite. I mean, just the way she stood up to those with authority, with power, to powerful men…. to military leaders, to dictators. These men feared this woman, and they wanted her killed. There had been plots to kill her long before. Even now, some of her critics won’t leave her alone in peace. There are misogynistic comments like “she’s no Pakistani woman! She’s no Muslim woman! A proper Pakistani, Muslim woman does not go around giving public speeches.” But it looks like the dominant response to her death was one of immense mourning. Her funeral, oh my goodness, her power was well at play during her funeral, too: unprecedentedly, women and men prayed alongside each other at the funeral. Here are some pictures from the funeral.

I think what happened is that she got tired. A life of struggle for justice, for love, caught up with her. To have lived like her, to have fought like her, to have won like her – to continue to fight for justice for everyone, yes, that’s exhausting. It eats you up.

Her critics say she was an angry woman, a typical angry feminist. They say this as if anger is a bad thing. I value anger. It’s anger, a righteous, divine anger that motivates me, that inspires me, that gets me going. Anger at injustices, at oppression, at exploitation. How are people NOT more angry? I don’t think we as a humanity are angry enough. We have every reason to be angry. And a woman who fought like Asma did? Yes, of course she was angry.

Asma also had this hilarious, this witty side to her that drove people around her to her. Since her passing, I’ve been reading more and more about her life, and there are articles talking about what it was like to be in her company, about the way she would tell stories, about the things she did and said that were simply hilarious but also so powerful they left you too stunned to talk back to her.

Since her passing, also, I’ve been thinking more and more about the other women in my life who I would feel this kind of pain over if we were to lose them. It’s got me thinking about how I celebrate such women while they’re alive (I want to emphasize women – men are great too and everything, but it’s more important to me to celebrate the women because of the extra pains and energies required with living as a woman, let alone fighting as a woman). I so deeply regret not having reached out to Asma, and the regret is very difficult to live with. It was my duty, I feel like, to let her know that she had at least one more supporter than she thought she did. When you’re a woman fighting for basic human rights for people, you have a lot of enemies, often far more enemies than supporters, and the enemies tend to have a lot more power than your supporters do. The enemies are also often violent humans. So a little bit of support from one more person carries you a long way. Almost every woman I’ve ever expressed my respect, admiration, and appreciation to has responded with, “I so needed to hear that right now!”

So this is a reminder foremost to myself but also to those of us who feel paralyzed because of Asma’s loss: we still have each other. We still have other fighters among us who can continue the fight that Asma continued that our/her female ancestors started long ago. The grief we’re all feeling is necessary, and I’m so glad it’s there. I also am slowly learning to grieve while celebrating, loving, appreciating the living champions among us. And there are many. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by so many in my own life, in all the spaces I’m a part of. And may this be a reminder to myself to love them, to let them know that I love them, that to celebrate Asma’s life and legacy also means to celebrate the living people who were inspired by Asma, whose career choices were inspired by Asma, and the many who didn’t know about Asma but do works similar to hers, the ones I’ll regret not having known about and not having expressed my love to when they pass on.

Rest in peace, Asma Jahangir. May God be merciful to you for all the good you did in this world, for all the times you lost and all the times you won, for changing lives, for saving lives, for doing exactly what the Qur’an required of you – to stand for justice even if it was against yourself, and especially when against those with authority over you. Now you deserve to rest, and we’ll continue the fight with you watching over us ❤


About Orbala

I want it to rain on my wedding day, pliss.
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