Remembering Khatoon-e-Pakistan Fatima Jinnah

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Rohail A Khan

THE 120th birth anniversary of Khatoon-e-Pakistan (The Lady of Pakistan) and Mader e Millat (Mother of the Nation), Fatima Jinnah, is being observed today (Tuesday, 30 July) with reverence. In March 1948, Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah expressed in his speech in Chittagong “The story of Pakistan, its struggle and its achievement, is the very story of great human ideals, struggling to survive in the face of odds and difficulties.” Fatima, against all odds, courageously stood behind the Great Quaid and shared his life’s trials and tribulations. She proved “the stalwart sister and lifetime companion” who chose not to marry but to consistently serve the Quaid for 28 years until his demise in 1948. Truly, she proved to be the woman behind the success of Quaid-i-Azam. Fatima‚ younger sister of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, is acknowledged as the “founding mother” of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, who was a dental surgeon‚ social worker and stateswoman of the highest calibre. Born in Karachi on 30 July 1893, her brother became her guardian upon the death of their father in 1901. Young Fatima, despite family opposition, received modern education and in 1902 enrolled at the Ivy-League Bandra Convent, North Bombay. In 1919, she enrolled at the University of Calcutta’s internationally-acclaimed Dr Ahmad Dental College. After qualifying as a dental surgeon in 1923‚ Fatima went along with her ambition of opening a dental clinic in Bombay’s posh Malabar Hills.
Upon the untimely demise of Quaid’s wife Ratanbai Jinnah in February 1929, Fatima closed her lucrative dental practice, moved with Quaid-i-Azam and diligently took charge of his house. Thus began a life-long companionship that lasted till the Quaid’s last breath on 11 September 1948. Fatima lived with her brother for over 28 years, including the last 20 crucial years of his life. The Quaid would routinely discuss multi-faceted problems and issues with her, mostly at the breakfast table. From his wardrobe to managing the kitchen to scheduling his travel and meetings, Fatima provided “extra-ordinary support to the great Quaid. She not only lived with her brother but accompanied him on most domestic and international tours. Paying tribute to her sister, the Quaid confessed “My sister was like a bright ray of light and hope whenever I came back home and met her. Anxieties would have been much greater and my health much worse, but for the restraint imposed by her.”
When All India Muslim League was organized, Fatima was inducted as member of the Working Committee of the Bombay Provincial Muslim League. She worked in that capacity until 1947 and gained formidable expertise. In March 1940, she attended the famous Lahore session of the Muslim League. Like majority of India’s Muslim political leaders, Fatima also realized the painful fact that the Hindus, aided by the British Government, intended to subjugate the Muslims in all walks of life. With unusual wisdom, she took the lead to serve the Muslim women and established “Women Students Federation (WSF),” as an arm of Muslim League in February 1941. During the transfer of power in 1947, she proved a role model to the Muslim women. With her foresight, she organized the “Women’s Relief Committee,” which later became the platform for “All Pakistan Women’s Association (APWA).” From 1947 till 1950, she worked tirelessly for the settlement and rehabilitation of Muslim refugees across the new State of Pakistan.
In this critical period, she assisted the Quaid in daily challenges and continued to build a network of social and educational institutions across Pakistan. During Quaid’s illness in 1947-48, she ensured round-the-clock medical treatment and remained tight-lipped about the severity of Quaid’s ailment. After Quaid-i-Azam’s death in September 1948, she continued socio-political works and regularly issued important statements, as a reminder to the nation of the ideals on which Islamic Republic of Pakistan was established. Fatima played an active role in national politics in 1965 after announcing her presidential candidacy, running against General Ayub Khan in the 1965 elections as a leader of the combined opposition parties. Based on her impeccable credentials and socio-political track record, even a conservative party like Jamat e Islami accepted her as a woman presidential candidate. She traveled back and forth between the West and East Pakistan during the election campaign, promising to fulfill Jinnah’s vision of Pakistan, promulgation of equal civil rights and education for all, and vowed to solve the economic and energy crises.
The sight of this dynamic lady moving in the streets of metro cities and rural towns of a Muslim country, was highly inspiring. She boldly proclaimed her opponent presidential candidate, General Ayub Khan, as a hard-lined dictator with little sympathy for the country. Fatima Jinnah’s line of attack was that by coming to terms with India on the Indus Water dispute, General Ayub Khan had surrendered control of the rivers over to India. She had the vision to foresee the negative impact of his timidity on Pakistan’s future economic growth. Her campaign generated such tremendous public enthusiasm that most of the local and international press agreed that if the contest were by direct election, Fatima would have won against General Ayub Khan. Forcibly side-lined after the 1965 elections, Fatima focused on writing a comprehensive biography of Quaid-i-Azam. Based on her life-long association with him, she carefully authored Quaid’s biography “My Brother” which was published in 1987 by the Quaid-i-Azam Academy. Fatima died in Karachi on 09 July 1967. The people of Pakistan hold her in high esteem. Due to her selfless work for Pakistan, the nation conferred upon her the titles of Khatoon-e-Pakistan and Mader-e-Millat. Her speeches hold eternal truth for the Pakistani nation. Her following two valuable statements are still cherished.
In her message to the nation on Eid-ul-Adha in 1965, she said: “Let us sink all our differences and stand united together under the same banner under which we truly achieved Pakistan. Let us demonstrate once again that we can unite face all dangers in the cause of glory of Pakistan, the glory that the Quaid-i-Azam envisaged for Pakistan.” While addressing the nation again on Eid-ul-Adha in 1967, she said: “The immediate task before you is to face the problems and bring the country back on the right path with the bugles of Quaid-i-Azam’s message. March forward under the banner of Star and the Crescent with faith, unity and discipline. Fulfil your mission and a great sublime future awaits your enthusiasm and action. Remember: ‘cowards die many times before death; the valiant never taste death but once. This is the only course of action which suits any self-respecting people and certainly the Muslim nation.” Fatima remains as one of the greatest women the sub-continent has produced.
— The writer is freelance columnist.

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