Nousheen Baba Khan
On 15 February 2021 Asmat Jamil, 46 year old Muslim woman leader in Kolkata, who was an important leader of the historic anti-CAA sit-in protest in Kolkata’s Park Circus Maidan, passed away peacefully at her residence located in Ripon Street, Kolkata. Her soul entered into eternel rest after courageously battling for life with cancer.
She was born on 24 March 1971 in Motijhil, Kolkata. An honors graduate in history from the Bhowanipore Education Society College, she ran a religious NGO named Az Zumar Foundation. She was a religious preacher and had the potential to charismatically gather hundreds of women in a single congregation.
Asmat was married to Abdul Jamil and is Survived by two daughters namely Alisha Jamil and Warisha Jamil. The lovely family stayed together even during the nights of the agitation in Park Circus but ultimately death separated them.
She battled for life for quite a long time. She was suffering from chronic kidney disease since 2010. When both of her kidneys got damaged she underwent kidney transplant in the year 2015. The kidney was donated by none other than her sister in law which proves how beautifully she was loved by her in laws. The doctors strictly prescribed her to stay away from anything and everything that may get her infected including pollution and Park Circus we all know is an open field with no restriction of dust or pollution. Unfortunately her desire and urge for public speaking, congregations, social services etc. could not hold her back and she continued what she loved the most. She loved social service, helping the women who came to her, praying for them, laughing with them and in return the women remain loyal to her and her sermons. Her religious sermons always included the incidents from the battle of Karbala. She was a Sunni Muslim. She was a believer in tassawwuf (Sufism) and always held Imam Hussain Alaehe Salam as her inspiration and guide. Asmat always referred battle of Karbala as the best example to stand against injustice and oppression and perhaps the seventh century battle compelled her to fight the twenty first century battle for the same reasons i.e, against injustice and oppression.
Asmat decided to call for the iconic Park Circus sit-in protest resisting Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) National Population Register (NPR) and National Register of Citizens (NRC). Before going for the indefinite sit-in protest, she organised a number of rallies on the same. On 7 January 2020 Asmat called for the historical 24×7 sit-in strike against the new citizenship laws passed in the Parliament on 11 December 2019.
It is on record that an audio-visual recorded on the afternoon of 7 January distinctively exhibited ‘it is better to die under the open sky of my nation and lie to rest under the dust of my land than to die in detention camps. I am a kidney patient and a single infection can take my life away from me.’ Her sermon on that day turned into a wish that seemed to have been granted the very moment. Her funeral prayers were performed at the same Park Circus sit-in protest site, exactly on the same spot where she uttered those words. That moment few women called out in tears ‘Baji you are gone but the chain of love and trust that you have created between us will stay.’
Another woman said ‘this is the real jihad, to fight injustice and dedicate your body and soul to the nation, Asmat Baji you are a martyr.’
Indeed she was a martyr because during the time of ongoing protest she was infected and her cancer reappeared. Knowing that her condition worsened she did not stop the fight and did not let others know what is going inside her except her family members. There has also been moments that she came to the protest site right after going through radiation for treating her cancer. Those who have known her personally can testify that she stayed there for the cause because just before two days the news of her death came in she was continuously urging people, who visited her, to continue the fight. Asmat requested everyone with folded hands that even if something happens to her and she dies then for the sake of humanity do continue the fight against CAA, NRC and NPR. It seemed as if she knew that her hours of life is limited.
Indeed she was a brave fighter, a rebel, an epitome of resistance but at the same time she was a young woman with desires. She can said to be a super woman but with a heart that purely belonged to any simple and ordinary woman. Each one of us have desires and likings towards something. She also had one, she loved shopping. She had a great fondness towards new dresses so much so that when she was bed ridden and stayed completely indoors her husband, cousins, in laws used to go shopping for her and make video calls from the garment shop where she used to spend hours selecting the dress of her choice. She loved vibrant bright colors. On 7 January she wore red, on 26 January, she wore blue and other days she wore almost every color from yellow to brown including orange, green and white. The color white symbolises completion, her fascinating journey of resistance, spirit to fight, aspiration for justice have been forever draped in white but her legacy continues. The legacy of women uprising, the legacy of empowerment and women leadership when injustice reaches its peak.
Long live Asmat Jamil, long live the ‘change’, long live the voices of dissent.
Nousheen Baba Khan is a PhD candidate and an anti-CAA activist in West Bengal.