In her teenage, she started her journey to defend her father who was victimized for keeping explicit views against totalitarianism and opposing the military regimes. Perhaps this was the source of inspiration, that the little heroine chose a career where she could raise her voice against oppression and miseries of depressed segments of society including women , children and religious minorities.
Asma Jilani Jahangir was born on January 27 , 1952 at Karachi in an educated and political family. Asma learned a lot from the suffering of her parents for being outspoken against ruthless traditional system and the annihilation in the Pakistani society by the absolute ruling attitude of the governments. Asma Jilani came into the lime light by her famous petition titled as -”Asma Jilani versus Government of the Punjab“- in which she challenged the illegal detention of her father, Malik Ghulam Jilani under the Martial Law. The case was not only decided in her favor but it also paved the way for the restoration of democracy in Pakistan.
After this, Asma Jahangir started her work for defending the human rights and she along with her sister Hina Jilani established a law firm for this cause. A new pressure group named as Women’s Action Forum was also formed through which she started a campaign to oppose the discrimination against women. This was the era of the then dictator General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq and the exploitation for personal gains in the name of religion was at its peak. Asma Jahangir and her companions started protests against the proposed Law of Evidence and the Hadood Ordinances as a result of which they faced violence , coercion and arrests.
In 1982, Asma Jahangir also lead a march towards Islamabad with the motto of reformation in Family Laws when Zia-ul-Haq decided to enforce religious laws in the country. In 1986 Asma Jahangir established a free legal aid set up named as AGHS Legal Aid with a shelter home for the deprived women named as ” DASTAK“.
Asma Jahangir remained affiliated as a founder member of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and was elected twice as the chairperson of the same nonprofit organization . The main purpose for establishing HRCP was to highlight human rights abuses in Pakistan , to ensure and monitor the basic fundamental rights of common citizen and to affirm the proper implementation of the norms and clauses of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Pakistan.
Asma Jahangir was assigned as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or arbitrary execution of the Commission on Human Rights and in 2004 she was appointed United Nation Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief of the Council of Human Rights.
Asma Jahangir was also in the forefronts in the movements of restoration of democracy and independent of judiciary during the dictatorial regime of Pervez Musharraf. She played an important role in mobilizing the civil society activist groups against the oppression of Pervez Musharaf government. Before that she remained a big critic of the idea of Enlightened Moderation presented by Musharraf stating that no substantial change had occurred on the state of human rights in Pakistan but the situation could never be improved under Military rule. Asma Jahangir was elected as the President of Supreme Court Bar Association of Pakistan in 2010 and thus she became the first woman president of the most prestigious Bar of the legal fraternity of Pakistan.
During her career, Asma Jilani Jahangir has remained under continuous criticism from the hardliners including the religious groups alleging her to promote anti islamic ideas. Instead of that Asma Jahangir continued her struggle to bring out reformation in the blasphemy laws , Hadood Ordinance and other violations like honor killings, use of bonded labor , persecution of minorities and other violence in the name of religion. She faced rough treatment on number of occasions from the extremists and the local law enforcement agencies during her activism campaigns.
Despite the many controversies, the services of this brave lady to safeguard the basic fundamental rights of Pakistani citizens can never be ignored. She has not only been acknowledged on the domestic level but she also been awarded with accolades at international level. She is being recipient of honorary doctorate degree of Law from the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, Queen’s University, Canada, and Amherst College, USA.
Asma Jahangir’s prominent distinctions include Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders , the Ramon Magsaysay Award , the Millennium prize, by UNIFEM (the United Nations Development Fund for Women), Hilal-i-Imtiaz the second highest civilian award of Pakistan and UNESCO/Bilbao Prize for the Promotion of a Culture of Human Rights.
In 2000, the Dawn group also published “Whither are We!“ by Asma Jahangir.In 2005, Asma Jahangir was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize as part of the 1000 Women for Peace project. Her famous literary works include ”Divine Sanction? The Hudood Ordinance“ and “Children of a Lesser God: Child Prisoners of Pakistan“ .