I know that in the long struggle for the achievement of Pakistan, Muslim women have stood solidly behind their men. In the bigger struggle for the building up of Pakistan that now lies ahead, let it not be said that the women of Pakistan had lagged behind or failed in their duty.
(Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Broadcast speech from Radio Pakistan, Dacca, March 28, 1948)
Pakistan came into existence in 1947 in the areas where centuries-old Indus Civilization always existed. Having witnessed the world’s oldest culture, religious beliefs, heritage and history, Pakistan owns an incredible historical sense and geography in the world. Modern-day Sindh and Balochistan soon attracted early Arab Muslim rulers and travelers, and with their arrival spread the great message of Islam. With the passage of time, Delhi, Lahore and Multan became the centers of Muslim power in India. Historians call this period from Ghauris to Mughals as ‘Muslim rule in India’.
However, Indian Muslim rulers could not keep pace with the changing times and that resulted in decay and downfall. The failure of 1857 War of Independence ended the golden era of Muslim rule in India. In these times of turbulence and disappointment, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan emerged as a great reformist leader of the Muslims of the subcontinent. He emphasized on the need of western education for the Muslims in India. This in a way paved way for women’s education in coming decades as the fathers and brothers educated from Aligarh University later led the social and political life of the Muslims. During this period, the emphasis remained on male education but gradually women could not stay aloof from the political developments. The first woman who shines in history of Pakistan Movement is Abadi Begum, famously known as Bi Amman. She was the mother of famous Muslim leaders Moulana Shoukat Ali and Moulana Mohammad Ali Johar. Both the brothers played leading role during Khilafat Movement (1919-1922). Bi Amman stood like a rock behind her sons and encouraged them to stand firm in their struggle and never bow to the powers of the foreign rulers. Bi Amman and her daughter-in-law, wife of Moulana Mohammad Ali Johar, also addressed the public gatherings. The leadership that was groomed during Khilafat Movement played a vital role during later phases of Pakistan Movement.
Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s rise to the top leadership of Muslims of India also led to a wider and more assertive role of women in Indian politics. He firmly believed in the power of women and encouraged them to come forward and play their role. His encouragement and support to his sister Miss Fatima Jinnah served as a shining example for other women. He always took along his sister wherever he travelled and also encouraged her to participate in political meetings. In 1938, Quaid-i-Azam created All India Muslim Women’s Sub-committee of All India Muslim League. This provided a strong platform for the women to take part in active politics at a much wider scale.
Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah, Begum Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan, Begum Salma Tassaduq Hussain, Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz, Lady Abdullah Haroon and Shaista Ikramullah are the few names that appear on the top but during last few years of struggle for Pakistan, thousands of women left the comfort of their homes, took part in public life and contributed significantly. During 1945-46 elections, these women leaders accepted the challenges and worked tirelessly for months, side by side with their men folk under Quaid’s leadership. They proved their mettle by mobilizing masses in the entire India. They launched campaign after campaign to get political support for the slogan, ‘Lay ke rahen gay Pakistan’. Women’s mobilization in Punjab to put pressure on Unionist Government, and in NWFP against Congress-led government is of great importance in the creation of Pakistan.
The young female students were able to generate funds for which they travelled across the country. They also launched awareness campaigns to highlight ‘Pakistan’ and its significance for the Muslim women. The Muslim League women committees used to hold meetings in various mohallas of different localities where they described the ‘Idea of Pakistan’ through their meaningful speeches and also answered the questions raised by the participants. Then came the most crucial phase of Pakistan Movement when millions of families migrated to Pakistan. Women suffered all sorts of brutalities at the hands of Hindu and Sikh militants but their resolve for an independent homeland never wavered. Their tales of uncomplaining sufferings for the cause they believed in is a glorious chapter of Pakistan Movement.
After independence, Quaid-i-Azam stood unequivocally for the great role women were to play in the formation of Pakistani nation. He believed in their immense power in national life which is obvious through his words which he spoke on June 28, 1948:
“In the great task of building the nation and maintaining its solidarity, women have a most valuable part to play, as the prime architects of the character of the youth that constitutes its backbone, not morally in their own homes but by helping their less fortunate sister outside in that great task…. I wish to impress on you that the nation can not rise to the heights of glory unless your women are side by side with you…. You should take your women along with you as comrades in every sphere of life avoiding the corrupt practices of western society. You cannot expect a woman who is herself ignorant to bring up your children properly. The women have the power to bring up children on right lines. Let us not throw away this asset”.
The writer is Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences & Humanities at Allama Iqbal Open University, Islamabad.
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