Muhammad Ali Jinnah is celebrated as the founder of the Pakistani nation. Yet his sister, Fatima Jinnah, who served as a pillar of support for him, never got married and abandoned her medical profession to assist his political endeavors, remains obscured by his magnanimous legacy.
She was born in 1893. The epoch in which Fatima Jinnah was raised (colonial British India) was largely male-dominated, with fewer women belonging to the upper echelons of the professional and political world. In such a world, Jinnah heralded a new dawn for women.
She was an inspiring woman who was known for her power, perseverance, resilience, and fortitude—stuff that legends are made of. She received an excellent early education, which was rare for a woman during her time. This helped her eventually secure a position in a competitive medical college, Dr. Ahmad Dental College in Calcutta. She established herself professionally by running her own dental clinic in Bombay. She was financially independent and self-sufficient—the epitome of modern-day empowerment.
The years leading up to the birth of Pakistan in 1947, paralleled Fatima Jinnah’s transformation from a dental surgeon to a political figure, shadowing her brother. Choosing to not get married, she abandoned her profession and continued to manage the domestic front of the Jinnah household for 28 years. However, it would be a great disservice to restrict her contribution to the domestic sphere. When her brother embarked on his political journey and coped with widowerhood, she became her brother’s chief political confidante. Once Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, told ADC Ahsan “nobody had faith in me; everyone thought I was mad except Miss Jinnah.”
She accompanied him on numerous political tours. In 1932, she attended the Second Round Table Conference with Muhammad Ali Jinnah. She also became a part of the Working Committee of the Bombay Provincial Muslim League and held that position until 1947. In March 1940, she was present at the Lahore session of the Muslim League (the political party led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah), where she stood in favor of democracy. By this time, she was convinced that the Hindus would continue to practice dominance over Muslims, and the latter would have to wallow in poverty, oppression, and subjugation till the end. Because of her belief, she helped in organizing the All India Muslim Women Students Federation in Delhi in 1941.
After her brother passed away in September 1948, she assumed the role of taking his legacy forward and ran for the presidency of Pakistan as a candidate for the Combined Opposition Party of Pakistan (COPP) in 1960. Her opponent was Ayub Khan, whom she openly proclaimed to be a dictator. Her political campaigns attracted massive crowds, swarming all over Dhaka and Chittagong. Later, she famously came to be known as Madr-e-Millat (Mother of the Nation).
In 1965, she contested elections at the age of 71. She stood against Khan—the dictator and self-installed president of Pakistan. Khan’s victory was inevitable. He exercised complete power over the governmental apparatuses of the country and drew legislation over electoral matters as the head of the state. He lumped together with the discontented, yet equally fundamental aspects of the social spectrum in the country to his favor, and drew support from the ulema (Muslim scholars), bureaucrats, students, and journalists.
When the elections were finally held, Jinnah suffered a defeat, leaving the populace in disbelief. Some even claimed that Khan dabbled in filthy election tactics such as rigging, coercion, and manipulation. They believed Jinnah’s defeat was impossible and advocated her rightful and democratic claim to leadership.
Jinnah died on July 9th, 1967 under mysterious circumstances. The cause of her death continues to be ambiguous to this date; with interpretations ranging from political assassination to natural death.
She made enormous contributions to Pakistan’s political history. Yet in the historical archives, her existence is obscured by her brother’s dominant presence. Muhammad Ali Jinnah is revered in Pakistan as the man who outfoxed his political opponents and stood up to the British. The mantle of attention conveniently falls on him, while Fatima’s own political and personal participation in nursing the nascent country goes unappreciated.
Jinnah fought for all Muslim women—for equality, for their economic independence and liberation, and for their political empowerment. She became a symbol of hope for Muslim women.
She will always be remembered in the yellow, parched, and frail pages of history.
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