DND Thought Center Report
The most benevolent and brilliant comrade I A Rehman passed away in Lahore today (April 12, 2021) at the age of 90. A true tribune of the people who always stood on the right side of history and with the oppressed and disenfranchised peoples of the world.
A vanguard of human, civil, social, economic, gender, and minorities’ rights, I A Rehman was everywhere and always stood fast with the people’s struggles for their rights.
A leading Marxist and a revolutionary activist, who continued to pursue truth and acquire new ideas while not succumbing to dogmatism or sectarianism. He was a cardholder of the communist party and kept it to his chest despite the demise of the united party. A broad-minded person who is always ready to listen to others and flexible enough to bridge the divides. He was a man of everybody ready to do something for the people.
A prolific and professional writer and a senior editor, he continued to write for the daily and periodical press. He had prolific memory and continued to write regularly his columns till his death in the Dawn. He was closely associated with the PFUG and trade union movement.
I A Rehman was the pioneer of the human rights movement in Pakistan and was the real spirit and architect behind the formation and development of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). He was the author of various human rights reports who set the agenda of various rights groups.
Above all, what made him so popular with people of all ages was his polite, pleasant, and affectionate manners. He nursed no grievances, nor carried any grievances. Man of simple manners and magical attraction, he was respected by everybody. A great friend indeed and guide in whose demise the peoples of Pakistan have lost a visionary who thought and lived for them.
In his interview to Advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan Amber Darr Rehman, he stated his human rights journey started in 1949, when he started writing for newspapers and became a member of the Civil Liberties Union.
Rehman had particularly developed a strong opposition to feudalism and stood for land reforms.
Telling about his family background Rehman said:
We were small landholders. My father and grandfather had some land in Haryana. And my father was both a religious person and a secular person. There was no religious prejudice in my life. In fact, I did not know the difference between Hindus and Muslims until I went to high school. My father was a lawyer, and he had a large number of Hindu clients and friends from the Communist Party. Many times, I would watch my father playing bridge with his friends and in hearing their conversations, I too absorbed the ideas of equality and fraternity.
The original interview was published on August 7, 2018, by the London School of Economics. Important questions and answers of his original interview are hereunder:
What did you expect the HRCP to achieve?
Actually, there were two things: despite the extensive censorship in Zia’s martial law, small indigenous associations had come up, mainly to help political prisoners. HRCP’s first mandate was to represent and connect these associations and its second agenda was to fight against illegal detention and to agitate for the basic right to life, liberty and security. We adopted three resolutions at the founding convention: to demand elections, which Zia had been postponing, to abolish separate electorates for minorities and the death penalty. Our core focus was on defending and promoting the rights of all citizens of Pakistan, promoting rule of law, promoting democratic government and to collaborate with like-minded organisations at home and abroad.
What in your view is the real success of the HRCP?
The HRCP’s biggest achievement is raising consciousness. I remember when we would ask people to join HRCP, even lawyers would say: ‘you want us to work for human rights? Are we human?’ They had been so dehumanised by the military regime that they had become cynical. Now nobody says such things. HRCP also played a very important role in resisting extremism in the country. Asma led many processions against religious profiling of persons in national identity cards and was successful in preventing it. We were also able to have thousands of people released from bonded labour. In fact, many bonded labourers realised that they could win their own freedom. Separate electorates were largely abolished in 2002. The Ahmadi issue persists of course.
I would like to work on extremism. While the view that Pakistan was created in the name of religion has been strongly contested the state has adopted this view which has led to a tussle between different religious sects in the country. Some claimed power because they were more numerous, others because they had money and weapons. At the time of its creation, People transferred their loyalties, their identities to Pakistan. My personal view is that Pakistan did not deliver, so people regressed to their provincial loyalties. When even those did not deliver, people started regressing to their ethnic and tribal affiliations. This is what atomisation is. Ultimately only your family matters, and then there is fighting within the family also.
So what should be done?
It is easy for a situation to deteriorate but to repair deterioration takes longer. It will take quite some time — maybe a generation or a generation and a half — to undo all this. A large number of people in Pakistan believe that the root cause of our waywardness is our lack of education and our divisive curriculum. And there is a strange pride that we are the best, even when we are not. This needs to be changed. We have been trying for this for the last ten years. But the mullahs are very organised in resisting any change.
How can mullah power be contained?
That is only possible through intra-religious discourse which is presently missing in Pakistan. The public space and educational space is left in the hands of the most conservative clerics. There is a lot of work going on throughout the world on liberal Islam but not in Pakistan. Any book that presents an alternate view of religion and the state is prevented from entering Pakistan.
How do see the future of South Asia given the polarity between India and Pakistan today?
There is a saying in Muslims, people adopt the religion of their rulers. The confrontations in South Asia are state-driven. Once you start off on that road it creates vested interests and then these interests lead and drive the people. If the state starts to see sense, then people will follow. But I think this will take time.