Women's Role in Pakistan Movement
By Dr Dushka H. Saiyid
(The writer is Associate Professor at the Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad)
23 March 1999 - Tuesday - 04 Zilhaj 1419
WOMEN played a major role in the Pakistan Movement. This was of great
historical significance, for the Muslim women of the subcontinent had
never participated in such great numbers in a political movement. It was a
befitting culmination of the reformist movements of the late nineteenth
century for the emancipation and education of Muslim women. The Quaid can
be seen as source of inspiration for their emergence as players on the
The Khilafat Movement of the 1920s had been the first instance when Muslim
women had made their presence felt. With Maulanas Shaukat Ali and Mohammed
Ali in jail, their mother, Bi Amman, had taken up the cudgels against
British imperialism. Her daughter-in-law assisted her. It took an old
lady to strike the first blow at seclusion. She addressed meetings from
behind the purdah of a sheet, and travelled to various parts of India to
whip up support. Women came to hear her, and they were motivated to meet
in various mohallas to raise funds. It was an old custom in the
subcontinent that women sold their jewellery when the family was faced
with a financial crisis.
When the Khilafat Movement demanded contributions from its supporters, the
women came forward and gave up their jewellery, that being their only
worldly possession. This would have been the first time that they made
such a gesture for a political cause. However all this was short-lived and
so with the demise of the Khilafat Movement women reverted to the strict
seclusion of their homes and their domestic world.
The Quaid had seen the increasing participation of women in the Congress,
his parent party. He realized the need to have Muslim women's
participation in the Muslim League, which he had begun to re-organize and
bring to life. It was at Lucknow in 1937 that he called for the creation
of a Women's Wing of the Muslim League, but it remained dormant till the
Patna Session of the Muslim League in 1938. His instructions were that
there should be a recruitment drive through each and every district of
India, and women should be made two-anna members of the Muslim League.
Within two years of the Patna session political consciousness had begun to
spread to all groups and classes of Muslim women, and on March 23, 1940,
the women's section of All-India Muslim League held its annual session at
the Islamia College for Girls, Lahore. By now this college had begun to be
at the centre of the women's movement for Pakistan. Its Principal, Fatima
Begum, played an instrumental role in bringing this about. Begum
Hafeezuddin gave the keynote address in which she called upon the Muslims
of the subcontinent to unite under the flag of the Muslim League.
Two resolutions were passed at this session. The first pertaining to the
Muslim League called for the women to work amongst their friends and
acquaintances and rally them to the Muslim League, and help the Party
organize sub-committees in towns and rural areas. The second resolution
called on Muslim men to help Muslim women get the legal rights which were
rightfully theirs under the Shariat, but which they had been denied.
Baji Rashida Latif, who was also a member of the Legislative Assembly,
declared in her speech that "capitalists" had deprived Muslim women
their rights. She must have been referring to the inheritance of property
which continued to be denied to Muslim women in Punjab, for the big
landlords did not want their property divided and consequently had opposed
inheritance by Muslim women.
The mobilization of girls and women was continued with full force. In
November, 1942, the Quaid was invited by the Punjab Girl Students
Federation to come to the Jinnah Islamia Girls College and address the
girls. In his speech he said: "I am glad to see that not only Muslim men
but Muslim women and children also have understood the Pakistan scheme. No
nation can make any progress without the co-operation of its women. If
Muslim women support their men, as they did in the day of the Prophet of
Islam, we should soon realize our goal... no nation is capable of
remaining a strong nation, unless and until its men and women struggle
together for the achievement of its goals".
The Quaid exhorted the young students to join the Muslim League and
recounted how at Patna he had formed a women's section of the Party, in
order to increase the involvement of the Muslim women.
The women's section of the Muslim League organized mushairas and
get-togethers. The movement for Pakistan had spread to girls' schools and
colleges and got increasingly tied up with Muslim women's demands for the
implementation of Shariat, as that would increase their rights under the
law. By 1945 the Muslim League movement had become so widespread amongst
women that they were touring the major towns and cities and trying to
organize primary branches of the Muslim League.
The main purpose of these tours was to get them to attend the coming
session of the All-India Muslims League in Lahore on March 23, 1945. As
the Muslim League geared up for the elections of 1946, women's' divisional
and district committees were organized and conveners appointed. A
contingent of women arrived in Lahore from Aligarh to assist in touring
the districts. In the last week before polling, women became so active
that they held meetings in Simla, Amritsar, Gujranwala and Lahore. Meetings
were held in Lahore to assign women to various polling stations.
The first women's branch of the Muslim League in the Frontier was opened
in 1939. In October 1945 Lady Abdullah Haroon, the President of the
All-India Women's Muslim League, led a delegation of Muslim women to the
Frontier province. When a meeting was organized under the auspices of the
Zenana Muslim League, as many as thousand women attended it. The audience
contributed Rs 80,000 to the Muslim League fund. In the elections of
1945-46 it was very active and women Leaguers from other parts of the
region, and especially from Lahore, toured the province to mobilize
support amongst the women of the Frontier province.
During the Civil Disobedience Movement, women's demonstrations in Peshawar
became frequent. Other towns affected in a similar manner were Mardan,
Kohat and Abbotabad. Women Leaguers' militancy in the Frontier increased
after the fall of the Unionist ministry in the Punjab. They agitated
outside the government offices, hoisted the flag on the Secretariat and
took out processions. The presence of a large number of women workers from
Punjab and other areas of the country helped.
The Muslim League won all the Muslim seats to the Central Assembly. They
celebrated Victory Day on January 11, 1946. Students from Aligarh to
Lahore had shown great zeal, and the girls had played a major role. On
January 18 the Quaid addressed the Muslim Students Federation in Lahore,
and when he went to address the women's wing of the Muslim League he was
escorted by two girls on either side of him with swords drawn. When,
despite the Muslim League victory, the British Governor of Punjab asked
the Congress and the Unionist Party to form a coalition government, it
caused a furore amongst the members and supporters of the Muslim League.
Meetings were held, and there was a demonstration of five hundred men and
women on Queen's Road.
The Quaid was in the tradition of a whole host of Muslim intellectuals and
thinkers before him who had been calling for the education and
emancipation of Muslim women. However, he was the first to actively
promote their participation in politics and the Muslim League. It is no
accident of history that he took his sister everywhere with him. He set
the trend and his followers emulated. It is not surprising that Liaquat
Ali Khan had Rana Liaquat by his side. The message was loud and clear:
women should come out of their seclusion and be equal partners in the
social and political life of the country. He is quoted as having declared
that the Muslim nation could not progress or free itself unless women were
its equal partners.
The Pakistan Movement is an important watershed in the social history of
Muslim women. While there is a long line of writers who in the late
nineteenth and early twentieth century were advocating that Muslim women
be educated, there was none who had the audacity to suggest that they
emerge from the physical seclusion of their homes. When the Pakistan fever
caught the hearts and minds of the Muslims, it seemed but natural that the
women should be drawn into it too.
While the Quaid encouraged this through every policy decision of his, the
conservative and the orthodox sections of society do not seem to have
provided any major opposition to this new phenomenon. Hence there was no
suffragette movement as such. Women acquired voting rights in the process
of waging a political struggle for Pakistan. There is no evidence of a war
between the genders because both were caught in a common struggle, and
were supportive of each other. There is a whole galaxy of confident,
intelligent, articulate and committed women who emerged from this
Movement. They were poised at this advantageous situation when Pakistan
Date/Time Last Modified: 3/2/2003 11:00:26 AM
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