The writer was a former journalist and director of The Green Economic Initiative at Shirkat Gah, a rights and advocacy group

Sheher Bano
Friday, January 09, 2015 =



Najma Sadeque, a veteran journalist formerly associated with The News, passed away in the wee hours of Thursday after losing the battle to renal failure.


“In how many ways can I describe my wonderful indomitable mother,” said her daughter Deneb Sumbul in an email. “She wore so many hats: an activist to the last, journalist for over 35 years, one of the founding members of WAF (Women’s Action Forum) and someone who was never short on wonderful ideas and new perspectives. For us the pain of losing her is beyond words.”


As news of Najma’s death broke, condolences of friends and colleagues started pouring in from around the world. For the pioneering team of The News, it came as a shock.


An era has come to an end: an era of activism, struggle for human rights and women’s rights, and the best of journalism.


Naj the journalist


Lovingly called “Naj” by some colleagues, she was an institution in herself. She was part of the pioneering team of The News: a team that brought out a newspaper that was, in the words of senior journalist Ghazi Salahuddin, “a journey of thousand dreams”.


Working with veterans like Salahuddin, Imran Aslam, Zeenat Hisam, Gul Hameed Bhatti, Najma Hazir and the one and only Najma Sadeque, the junior team members had the opportunity to learn a great many things.


Though it was not a conventional student-teacher relationship, it was a lifetime of learning with all of them, especially Najma, who worked on each and every word of our stories to make it worth reading.


As the editor of WE – a weekly magazine of The News that was later rebranded as ‘The News on Friday’ and then again as ‘The News on Sunday’ – Najma brought out remarkable editions on a wide variety of popular topics that attracted a large readership throughout the country.


She was a wonderful boss: to many she was too strict, but learning with and from her was always fun. She was a great team leader: she took her subeditors out to lunch; threw small office parties, especially on her birthdays; and rewarded them if they worked to her satisfaction, which was a very difficult task because she was a perfectionist.


After leaving The News she started freelancing for various English newspapers of the country, including The News, on issues close to her heart.


Her articles continued appearing in newspapers until last month, because she was a strong woman and a workaholic to the core who did not let her illness slow her down.


Naj the activist


Najma was a founding member of Shirkat Gah, an organisation she remained associated with from its inception in 1975 until her death. She worked on economics, environment and women’s awareness as regards their social and legal rights.


She was also a founding member of WAF, which was set up in 1981 by a group of women to fight for women’s rights after former military dictator Gen Zia-ul-Haq had promulgated discriminatory laws against women.


Unlike the conventional image of an activist who stages rallies and shouts slogans against injustices, she chose to do practical work by running meaningful campaigns. Many of these campaigns were successful because they gave food for thought to the people who mattered.


She was a staunch advocate of women’s rights; be it farm labourers, bonded labourers working in brick kilns or women working in suppressing environments in the corporate world, her message was clear: women should raise their voice against injustices.


She was a staunch advocate of green economics: as director of The Green Economic Initiative at Shirkat Gah, during many of her seminars and presentations she floated the idea of microfinance to Pakistani women.


She also conducted many seminars on producing food through natural manure to stay healthy. She always advocated food security as one of the options to get rid of poverty.


Najma also worked on some documentaries with her daughter Deneb, an independent film-maker, on important issues, especially food security, women, and their relationship with land and the environment.


“Activists have to boost women’s courage to exercise their vote accordingly,” wrote Najma in her last article for the You magazine of The News. “It has everything to do with human rights and democracy. Start talking!”


Speak and raise voice for human rights. This is what Najma fought for her entire life and it was also her parting message.


Condolence meeting


The directors, managers and staff of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) expressed grief on Najma’s death, adds our correspondent.


During a condolence meeting, Piler Executive Director Karamat Ali paid rich tributes to the activist who, he said, fought her entire life for the rights of the poor and vulnerable sections of society.


Piler’s senior managers Zeenat Hisam and Sharafat Ali also eulogised Najma’s contributions. The institute’s employees offered their condolences and also observed a two-minute silence for the deceased.