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  • Arjun Gananathan

A Father’s Influence

Hina Jilani was only five years old when her father resigned as a civil servant to join Pakistani politics. During Feroz Khan’s years as Prime Minister, Jilani’s family had been stationed in a small city in central Punjab, named Sahiwal (then Montgomery). With three siblings and freethinking, indulgent parents, Jilani describes her childhood as happy and privileged. She attended a Christian missionary school, and spent most of her education under the supervision of nuns.

In 1958, President Iskander Mirza repealed the Pakistan Constitution, pronounced martial law, and dismissed Feroz Khan’s administration. Three weeks later, General Ayub Khan, then Commander-in-Chief of the Pakistan Army, took control of the country, an action that many continue to refer to as an illegal military coup. Jilani’s father, disillusioned by the course of Pakistani democracy, recognized a duty to resist and dissent. In protest of Ayub Khan’s regime, he moved his entire family back to Lahore and entered opposition politics.

Jilani characterizes her father as not only a proficient politician, but a gifted advocate. He argued passionately for justice, and stood fervently against arbitrary detention. His willingness to speak openly in the face of an oppressive regime landed him in jail on countless occasions. On the first of these occasions, Hina Jilani recounts being left unsettled. As time moved on, however, her father’s recurring detention felt routine. Even prison visits became predictable; by reason of her father’s courage, jail had lost much of its callous and frightening impression.


Influenced by her father’s involvement in opposition politics, Jilani now takes on her father’s footsteps in defending democratic rights.


Jilani continued her secondary education at the Convent of Jesus and Mary in Lahore, before obtaining a bachelor’s degree from the Kinnaird College for Women, with aspirations of becoming a linguist. Much like her father, however, Jilani realized a profound obligation as a citizen to champion and defend democratic rights, and thus turned her attention to the law. After completing her legal education at the University of the Punjab, she was called to the Pakistan Bar in 1979.

As a human rights defender, Jilani’s work has instigated significant progress for women in Pakistan. She is the founding member of both the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and the Women’s Action Forum, and currently sits as a member of The Elders. In 1991, Jilani founded the Dastak Shelter in Lahore for women fleeing gender-based violence and abuse. Dastak continues to thrive today, having provided legal services to more than 8000 Pakistani women and children over thirty years.



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