Mother Superior

Mother Superior

By ARCHANA DALMIA | | 14 November, 2015
Fatima Jinnah, the charismatic sister of the founder of Pakistan, Muhammed Ali Jinnah, remained an elusive figure for most of her life. Apart from being a qualified dental surgeon, she was a committed women’s rights activist and an astute political advisor to her brother, writes Archana Dalmia.
The last memory of the Maadr-e-Millat of Pakistan, Fatima Jinnah, will always be that of her bruised body being carried in an open jeep, in a grieving funeral procession of 6,00,000 people to her brother Quaid-e-Azam’s mausoleum and being laid to rest amidst showering rose petals, flowing tears and trembling chants of Long live the Mother of the nation; Long live Pakistan!
Fatima Jinnah, the elusive, frail, graceful and gritty sister of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was a passionate political worker, a determined activist of women’s rights and a qualified dental surgeon. 
She was born, the youngest of seven children, to Jinnahbhai Poonja and Mithibai, in a rented apartment on the second floor of Wazir Mansion in Karachi on 30 July 1893. Of all Fatima’s siblings, Muhammad Ali, Ahmad Ali, Bunde Ali, Rahmat Ali, Maryam and Shireen she was the closest to Muhammad Ali the eldest, who became her natural guardian upon the death of their father when she was nine years old. 
Fatima was sent to school at the Bandra Convent in Bombay the following year and then to the highly competitive University of Calcutta in 1919 to study Dentistry at Dr R Ahmed Dental College, after which she began her practice at her own clinic in Bombay in 1923.
Fatima and her brother were close companions and she an adoring and devoted younger sister. After the death of Jinnah’s second and much younger wife, Ruttie Bai at the age of twenty-nine, a grief-stricken Quaid had gone to pieces. Fatima gave up her practice and moved in with him to support him in his fight for freedom and nerve wracking bereavement. From there on she never left his side till the day he died.
In the ’40s, by the time Jinnah decided to manoeuver his party, the All India Muslim League (AIML) towards a more polemical position on the question of the future of India’s Muslims, Fatima had become his advisor and most trusted confidant.
His move helped the AIML evolve into a significant mass-based party among India’s Muslims. And after the tense elections of 1946 in the Punjab, the AIML in an astonishing development managed to reverse the electoral fortunes of the Indian Congress, some Congress-backed confessional Muslim groups and the Unionist Party. The AIML emerged the main engine behind what would later come to be known as the “Pakistan Movement”.
Around this time a close association had begun to grow between renowned industrialist Ramkrishna Dalmia who was an ardent Congress supporter and Mohammed Ali Jinnah. It was a peculiar friendship of polar opposites and despite rumours regarding the scandalous relationship between Dalmia and the elusive Muslim lady, their friendship blossomed into a strong bond of mutual faith. 
Dalmia, even though a staunch and practicing Hindu was Jinnah’s most trusted ally. Both believed that India needed to have Jinnah as the head of the ruling party of a free nation if the Muslims had to be assured of their safety and security and both believed that Mohandas Gandhi was biased in favour of Jawaharlal.
Fatima Jinnah who played hostess to all her brother’s guests and visitors quite freely intermingled with Dalmia. She completely immersed herself in her brother’s crusade and worked tirelessly for the cause of the Muslims of India. That earned her some veneration and recognition both within and outside the AIML. During the years that followed she accompanied her brother on most of his official tours and by doing so was signaling to the women of her faith, to stand shoulder to shoulder with their brethren during the struggle for freedom. The proud and gutsy Fatima always walked alongside Jinnah, not behind him and the message to the Muslims of the electrified nation from the brother-sister duo, was abundantly clear. 
Fatima soon joined the All India Muslim League and regularly attended all their sessions. In 1941 she was instrumental in forming the All India Muslim Women Student’s Federation in Delhi, but sadly her contribution to social development was never given its due credit. Despite the fact that Fatima Jinnah, along with Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan, the wife of senior leader Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan who later went on to become the first Prime Minister of Pakistan, had made the greatest contribution to women's awakening in India and had fervently encouraged their participation in national affairs, she remained an invisible face, known primarily by her kinship to her brother.
Even after the struggle came to fruition in 1947 and a separate Muslim country was created by the exiting Imperial rulers, Fatima’s existence as a woman leader in her homeland was wrought with disillusionment and eventual isolation.
The Jinnah’s parted from Indian soil on the 14th of August 1947, a triumphant pair. They had sold the last vestige of their Indian indentity, their grand mansion on 10 Aurangzeb Road to their friend and failed ally, RK Dalmia who ceremoniously unfurled the green flag of his passionate movement for banning cow-slaughter on the very precincts of a home that had witnessed many a rendezvous between the Jinnah’s and him, and undoubtedly served many a connoisseur, beef delicacies on their dining table. 
Jinnah with his disease-ravaged lungs, his sister with sadness in her heart on parting with her friend, but with a thrilling jubilation that was doomed to brevity, flew out to Pakistan, never to return.
Barely one year after he was sworn in as Governor General, on the 11th of September 1948, Quiad-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah, succumbed to tuberculosis, the secret ailment he had so ferociously guarded inside him and with him ended the glory of the man who defied himself to become what he was not.
After Jinnah’s death, most saw Fatima as a natural successor to her brother’s legacy, but there were fierce forces against her  that ensured that her voice was suppressed and the government of her beloved motherland grew so obsessed with keeping Fatima Jinnah from expressing her views with freedom that Radio Pakistan even ceased to broadcast her speech on Quaid-e-Azam’s death anniversary.
In the ’40s, by the time Jinnah decided to manoeuver his party, the All India Muslim League (AIML) towards a more polemical position on the question of the future of India’s Muslims, Fatima had become his advisor and most trusted confidant.
Woefully, with the death of Quaid-e-Azam, Pakistan did not bestow the deserved reverence on Fatima. On two consecutive death anniversaries of the Quaid, Fatima Jinnah did not address the nation, only because the administration asked for her speeches to be reviewed before her broadcast, which was totally unacceptable to her. 
Finally, in 1951 on Jinnah’s third death anniversary the administration agreed to let her speech go uncensored, but at one point during the transmission her voice was suspiciously bleeped out. 
Newspapers the next day were rife with violent condemnation of Radio Pakistan and despite vehement denials from the authorities everyone knew that Fatima Jinnah had been made a victim of the jittery administration’s fear of public censure from the mouth of the deceased Quaid’s own sister. However, this act of cowardice damaged the government’s credibility far more than her speech might have and she emerged the injured martyr with her power and dignity intact.
On 7 October 1958, Premier Iskandar Mirza, in order to maintain his hegemony on power, imposed a martial law in the state. He appointed the self-proclaimed Field Marshal, Commander-in-Chief Ayub Khan, the Chief Martial-Law Administrator. In a cruel twist of fate, just a fortnight later, Ayub Khan divested Iskandar Mirza of all his powers and declared military rule in Pakistan.
Some of Ayub Khan’s political advisors suggested that he contest elections to become the President of the country and the ruling Muslim League nominated him as their candidate. Believing that only she could accord him a fitting defeat, the opposition parties nominated a reluctant Fatima Jinnah to contest against the Field Marshal. 
1965 for Fatima Jinnah, witnessed the zenith of her political accomplishments. She had flouted tradition by challenging Ayub Khan in a tight race for the office of President of Pakistan and even the conservative party, Jamaat-i-Islami accepted her as a woman presidential candidate. Her candidature settled once and for all, the tricky question of a woman being the head of a Muslim state. In the circumstances it was her candidature alone that could have induced a favorable fatwa from Maulana Maududi and once that was announced, the controversial issue ceased to exist for all times to come. This was Fatima Jinnah’s singular and most vital contribution towards women's empowerment and their participation in public life in the Islamic state. It was indeed the ultimate crystallization of her life’s dream.
But the people had miscalculated the might of the wily despot. Field Marshal Ayub Khan was declared the winner by a wide margin of votes and allegations of massive rigging of the polls offered little if any solace to Fatima and her supporters. 
Both Fatima and ‘Pakistan’ had suffered a humiliating defeat at his hands and with that, it was curtains down for the last of the Jinnahs in Pakistan’s politics. Fatima would live in political oblivion, a sad, lonely, persecuted and humiliated woman till the end of her life. 
Even after the struggle came to fruition in 1947 and a separate Muslim country was created by the exiting Imperial rulers, Fatima’s existence as a woman leader in her homeland was wrought with disillusionment and eventual isolation.
On the evening of 8 July 1967, Fatima Jinnah attended the wedding of Mir Laiq Ali’s daughter. As per habit, she locked up the house, left the keys in the kitchen and carried her usual glass of milk into the bedroom with her. The next morning, Fatima’s friend and neighbor, Begum Hidayatullah was summoned to force open her bedroom, where she was found dead. 
The Commissioner of Karachi and Inspector General of Police, who were both present at the scene, noticed the door to the gallery was ajar and the glass of milk missing. 
Fatima Jinnah was known to be stern with her servants and had fired her cook three days earlier replacing him with a new one. The new cook was nowhere to be found, but the undisputable suspicion that fell on him and the motive for her possibly unnatural death was ignored.
The first funeral prayers for the deceased Fatima Jinnah were offered at her residence early that morning. A huge crowd had gathered there by the time the funeral procession began its march towards Jinnah’s mausoleum where she had wished to be buried. 
Fatima’s body, swathed in mountains of flowers was placed in an open jeep surrounded by four men of the National Guard, some members of the Muslim League and a religious scholar who recited verses of the Quran as she was sent off. The Guards spread the national flag over her corpse and the charged crowd began shouting loud chants, Long live the Mother of the nation, Maadr-e-Millat zindabad  that reverberated throughout the four hour long journey to her grave. 
The government had declared it a national holiday. Senior leaders from the ruling and other political parties were all part of the procession that kept growing in numbers as it moved forward. Women were seen showering rose-petals from rooftops all along the way and thousands of mourners including women and children wound their way with the cortege to her place of rest. 
At 10 a.m. the procession reached the Polo Ground where the Municipal Corporation had arranged for a session of funeral prayers to be led by Muhammad Shafi. The sea of heads that had collected there began moving towards the Jinnah mausoleum and by noon, the crowd had swelled to almost 600,000. Some distraught mourners tried to come closer to the body and the nervous the police authorities began raining lathis and firing tear gas shells to control the frenzied crowd. Some people retaliated by throwing stones that left one man dead and several injured.
By 12.55 p.m., the burial had ended and peace restored.
The next day rumours were rife that Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah had been murdered, and reports that the Mother of the Nation had visible injury marks and strange wounds on her body began doing the rounds. 
Four years later, on 2 August 1971 a local Urdu newspaper published an article claiming that Fatima Jinnah had indeed been murdered. The report included statements of the people who had performed the ghusl as per Islamic tradition, a ritualistic bath given to the dead before burial. They had quoted Hidayat Ali aka Kallu Ghusl who was one of the men who had performed the last bath, who swore that the corpse of Fatima Jinnah bore visible wounds on it. He claimed there was an opening in her stomach from which blood and other fluids were oozing out and that her bloodstained clothes were in his possession. He demanded an investigation to determine the cause of her death, but no one from the administration paid any heed to his incendiary rhetoric and the matter died out.
But, the Maadr-e-Millat at the age of 74, disillusioned and lonely, had been laid to rest as per her last will, beside her illustrious brother Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammed Ali Jinnah. The unrecognized cause, for which she lived and died, perished with her. And with her the mystery surrounding her death, assassination or murder, got interred deep inside her grave, lost forever!

There are 4 Comments

Jai Hind ! An excellent article...

So , the Jinnahs died in ignomy after pushing for a separate homeland that ended up causing the mass murders in the Partition and deaths from the descendants of barbarians that ruled India. What did she expect? Being worth 1/2 a man in Islam? That the fundamentalists would be benign , secular and tolerant? They were useful to the barbarians in their community who promptly disgarded them after the 'rational' and 'educated' face of their community was no longer needed. What they sowed they reaped.

My father RK Dalmia and Quaid-e-Azam were close allies. He worked relentlessly to prevent the partition and ferociously supported Jinnah. He wanted him to be the Prime Minister of free India. Alas! both were sidelined by the victors who wrote history. Indeed Fatima deserved a better life and my father should not have been denied the glory that was his due. But no one can alter the course of destiny.

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