I.A. Rehman – The Marathon Ends Here!

By Javed Ansari | May 2021

In the 1970s, I was a struggling young journalist (with a job at The Sun) and would grab every opportunity to read good writing, especially in English, to hone my own skills. That was the time when I became an admirer of a person whom I knew only by his byline – I.A. Rehman. He was then the editor of a film magazine brought out by NAFDEC (National Film Development Corporation). I.A. Rehman’s beautiful prose was a part of my education in those days. He later came to be known as a peace and human rights advocate and a leftist who had been a protégé of Faiz Ahmed Faiz. Rehman Sahib became chief editor of the Pakistan Times in 1989 and was also commended for his intellectual prowess. He worked as director of HRCP (Human Rights Commission of Pakistan) for two decades and was also its secretary general till 31 December, 2016. Apart from publishing hundreds of articles and papers, he authored three books: Jinnah as a Parliamentarian (co-editor), Arts and Crafts of Pakistan, and Pakistan under Siege, a collection of his own columns.

Zohra Yusuf, former chairperson of the HRCP, says Mr. Rehman made great efforts to bring peace between India and Pakistan in particular and the region in general. With Dr I.K. Gujral (India) and Dr Kamal Hossain (Bangladesh), he set up an organization called ‘South Asians for Human Rights’ since he yearned very ardently for peace in the region.

I.A. Rehman’s interests are said to have been diverse and deep-rooted. He had a special commitment to the freedom of the press and worked for it all his life. When Newsline magazine (now defunct) was launched by a group of women under the editorship of Razia Bhatti, I.A. Rehman was one of its strongest supporters. He was also quite active in the PFUJ.

A man who always stood for democracy and the Constitution, he was a firm believer in the supremacy of the Parliament. A person of kindness, with always a smile on his face, I.A. Rehman was behind the most vulnerable in society and was admired for his bravery, fearlessness and humility and for his love for the arts and literature.

He is reported to have once said to Saroop Ijaz of the Human Rights Watch that the struggle for human rights was a marathon and not a sprint. He was well-known for having opposed and actively resisted four military dictatorships and the various punishments that he got in return such as imprisonment, removal from jobs, threats and bans.

His is said to be one of the first and loudest voices to oppose Pakistan’s abusive blasphemy laws but his resolve is reflected in the fact that he helped victims of these laws without his spirits being dampened. He continued his struggles even when his nephew, the lawyer Rashid Rehman, was assassinated in 2014, for representing a university professor charged under the blasphemy law. Almost at the age of 90, Rehman would join protest camps for victims of enforced disappearances, walk with landless peasants, and stand at the frontline, holding placards for the Aurat March.

The best thing was that I.A. Rehman’s long battle with tyranny, oppression and injustice never made him bitter or cynical. He always had a sense of humour and came out as an optimistic person.

In a recent newspaper column, he had written, “The root cause of political backwardness in societies such as Pakistan is a failure to move beyond the phase of agitation activity that had to be adopted out of necessity during the short struggle for liberation from alien rule. Politically conscious societies having experience of stable democratic politics over a reasonable period provide for the training of young politicians at various forums including through normal educational courses. But countries such as Pakistan where the need for this kind of training is the greatest ignore this important prerequisite of democratic politics.”

A succinct lesson that I.A. Rehman leaves for our politicians, young and old