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Independence Day special: The women brigade of freedom fight

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KARACHI: Every year when the August 14 nears, we turn the pages of Pakistan’s history and refresh our memories of a great freedom movement, adoring struggle, and immense sacrifices that eventually led to the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

And…When we do that, we get to know our history was and would never be concluded without mentioning the part its women played.

The subcontinent’s all-women brigade – extremely educated, cultured and politically enthused – facilitated the forefront freedom leaders on every occasion when they needed their backing.

This article is all about our leading ladies, who ignited the fight for freedom taking to another level.


Miss Fatima Jinnah


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Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s younger sister and certainly the most beloved one, Fatima Jinnah was born in 1893.

A qualified dentist from Dr Ahmad Dental College at the University of Calcutta, Miss Jinnah remained an important part of Quaid’s life.

Jinnah, while paying tribute to her sister, once said, “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”.

Miss Jinnah helped him during the ups and lows of life and political career.

She joined the India Muslim League as a member of the Working Committee Bombay Muslim League and worked in that capacity until the formation of Pakistan.

In March 1940, she attended the Lahore session of the Muslim League that convinced her Muslims needed a free state.

On her initiative, the All India Muslim Women Students Federation was organised in February 1941 in Delhi.

At the time of independence too, she was an inspiration for Muslim women. She formed the Women’s Relief Committee and played her role in the settlement of refugees.

She continued to help social and educational associations and even during Quaid’s illness, she remained passionately attached to him.

In 1965, Miss Jinnah participated in Presidential polls as a candidate of the Combined Opposition Party with a back of a conservative, Jamaat-e-Islami.

Miss Jinnah died in Karachi on July 8, 1967. Pakistanis remember her as ‘Madar-e-Millat’ or ‘Mother of the Nation’.


Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan


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Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan was born on February 13, 1905 in Almora in the United Provinces, received education in Lucknow, earning a Master’s degree in 1929.

She chose to teach and started working at the Gokhale Memorial School. Little by little with her hard work, she became a Professor of Economics at the Indraprastha Girls’ College, Delhi.

1933, was the year when she got married to Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan – Pakistan’s first prime minister – in April.

Her efforts to mobilise women within the voluntary cadre gained her several prestigious awards. She was the first Muslim woman to win the Human Rights Award.

Following the reorganisation of Muslim League, Begum Ra’ana devoted herself to the cause of creating political consciousness amongst the Muslim women.

She started a campaign by the name of women’s voluntary service in 1948 and encouraged women to take up responsibilities during crises by offering developmental, moral and emotional support.

Begum Ra’ana willingly formed the Pakistan Women’s National Guard (PWNG) and the Pakistan Women Naval Reserve (PWNR) in 1949, but the organisations later failed to survive.

In 1949, Begum Ra’ana arranged a conference of over 100 women activists from all across the newly formed Pakistan, and announced to form, All Pakistan Women Association (APWA) and became its first president.

APWA moved to the global platform when she won for APWA, the United Nations recognition as a non-governmental organisation (NGO) with consultative status.

APWA since 1949 has been a hub for the liberation of women of all creeds, culture and denominations, with nationwide branches.

Her husband, Liaquat Ali Khan was assassinated in 1951 but Begum Ra’ana’s courage remained undaunted. She continued her services for Pakistan until her demise.


Fatima Sughra


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No one knew Fatima Sughra, until one day she took down the British flag from the civil secretariat [the Punjab Civil Secretariat Building in Lahore – the main British building in the Punjab] and replaced it with Muslim League flag that made her a hero.

She was born in Lahore, in the old walled city with Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims living in peace in the pre-partition subcontinent.

In 1919, Sughra got married to Sir Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, a famous political leader in Sindh.

She actively assisted her husband in his social and political activities and started her own political stint in 1938 as a worker of the All India Muslim League.

In the same year, she became a part of the Women’s Central Subcommittee.

With Sughra’s dedicated efforts for expanding the organisation, several provincial subcommittees were formed in districts of Sindh.

In December 1943, she became the President of the Women’s Reception Committee during an annual session of the All India Muslim League in Karachi.

Civil disobedience movement started in 1946 and 1947 when Muslim women were thrown in jail when they protested. In fact, other women who came out in support them were also put behind the bars.

In February 1947, Sughra came to Lahore and took part in political processions, urging the government to accept the League’s demands.

She even led a procession that marched towards the Civil Secretariat and took down the British flag, what she thought was an unplanned but a good idea.

Sughra action became a symbol of independence that she received a Gold Medal for ‘Services to Pakistan,’ making her the first ever to get one.

Her services in the Women’s Refugee Relief Committee were commendable. During the deadly Partition riots, she worked with the refugees to relieve their sufferings.


Begum Jehan Ara Shah Nawaz


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Born in April 1896, Begum Jehan Ara Shah Nawaz was the daughter of a Muslim League leader, Sir Muhammad Shafi.

She received her education at the Queen Mary College, Lahore and enjoyed multiple positions before and after independence.

Ever since the All India Muslim Women’s Conference became functional, Begum Shah Nawaz devoted all her efforts towards its cause.

She initially helped the organisation pass a resolution against polygamy in its session held in Lahore in 1918.

Besides her role in politics, Begum Nawaz remained associated with education and orphanage committees of the Anjuman Himayat-e-Islam, Lahore.

She was active in the All India Muslim Women’s Conference and was later made the president of its provincial branch while being the vice-president of the conference.

Begum Nawaz was also the first woman to be elected as vice-president of the Provincial Executive and a member of the All Indian General Committee of the Red Cross Society.

In 1935, she founded the Punjab Women’s Muslim League and in 1937, she was elected as a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly.

Begum Nawaz was appointed as Parliamentary Secretary for Education, Medical Relief and Public Health.

In 1938, she joined the Women’s Central Subcommittee of the All India Muslim League and in 1942, the Government of India appointed her as a member of the National Defence Council.

Begum Nawaz’s role was major during the 1947 Civil Disobedience Movement in Punjab. She passed away on November 27, 1979, at the age of 83.


Begum Tasadduque Hussain


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The daughter of Mian Fazal Ilahi Bedil, Begum Tasadduque Hussain – though her real name was Salma Mahmuda – was born in August 1908.

She was brought up in a highly educated and literature-loving family in Gujranwala and was later married to Dr Tasadduque Hussain in 1922.

However, Begum Hussain continued her studies and successfully graduated from the University of Punjab.

Following the formation of Punjab Provincial Women’s Subcommittee, she soon became its active member and in 1940 became one of the secretaries.

She assisted in developing several primary schools and industrial homes for girls in Lahore.

Begum Hussain played a main role in the Bengal Relief Fund Committee. In 1944, she was nominated as a member of the working committee Punjab Muslim League.

She contested on the Muslim League ticket for the Punjab Assembly seat in 1946 from a Lahore constituency and won with a majority.

During the infamous Bihar riots, she helped refugees and stayed with them for nearly two months in the affected areas.

Following the partition in 1947, her activities did not remain confined to Punjab only and she started taking the keen interest in the affairs of other provinces as well.

When the Civil Disobedience Movement spread to the then NWFP (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa), she went there and assisted in organisational matters.

As a writer and poet, Begum Hussain was very popular. Her poems and short stories appeared in leading Urdu journals. She even translated ‘Cleopatra’ in Urdu. Begum Hussain died on August 7, 1995.

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