Jinnah, Fatima (1893–1967)

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Jinnah, Fatima (1893–1967)

Pakistani politician and sister of Mohammad Ali Jinnah who helped her brother realize his goal of an independent nation for Indian Muslims and stood for the presidency of Pakistan in 1964 as a conservative candidate. Name variations: Mohtarama Fatima Jinnah; Fatimah Jinnah; Madar-i-Millat Mohtarama Fatima Jinnah. Pronunciation: FAH-tee-mah JIN-nah. Born in 1893 in Karachi, India; died in 1967 in Pakistan; third daughter of Jinnah Poonja (a merchant) and Mithibai; attended the Bandra Convent school, 1902, and enrolled in Dr. Ahmad Dental College, Calcutta, 1919.

Became the ward of her elder brother Mohammad Ali Jinnah upon the death of her father (c. 1901–18); opened a dental clinic in Bombay (1923); moved in with her brother Mohammad Ali Jinnah upon the death of his wife Ruttenbai (1929); traveled in Europe (1929–35); entered politics (1936), with the express aim of establishing an independent homeland for Indian Muslims; elected delegate to the Bombay Provincial Muslim League Council (March 1947); served as public speaker and politician (1947–67); supported and nursed Mohammad Ali Jinnah during his final illness until his death on September 11, 1948; worked to establish educational institutions, including Fatima Jinnah Medical College for Girls (c. 1949–51); worked to ease the plight of Muslim refugees entering Pakistan by founding Industrial Homes in Karachi, Peshawar, and Quetta (c. 1949–51); assisted in funding and maintaining scholarships, schools, and hospitals in Pakistan (1958–59); unsuccessfully stood for president of Pakistan (1964), challenging Ayub Khan for the leadership of the country.

Fatima Jinnah, the sister of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was perhaps the biggest supporter of her brother's search for an independent Muslim state in India. She was also a leader in the Pakistani independence movement in her own right. After her brother's early death from cancer, Fatima Jinnah at least partly took his place as a leader for a conservative, Muslim Pakistan. In 1964, she challenged former general Ayub Khan for the presidency of the country, seeing him as antidemocratic and a threat to the freedom of ordinary Pakistanis. Although she lost the election and died only three years later, Fatima Jinnah maintained the loyalty and love of many Islamic Pakistanis. "Whenever Pakistan faced a political crisis," writes Atique Zafar Sheikh, director general of the National Archives of Pakistan, "Fatima Jinnah stood with the people. She always boldly and courageously challenged every action against people, democracy, and Islamic ideology. The people of Pakistan had great faith in her."

In her biography of Mohammad Ali Jinnah entitled My Brother, Fatima Jinnah related the history of her family. Her father Jinnah Poonja was born in the year 1857—the same year as the great Indian Mutiny—in the village of Paneli, in the state of Gondal near the city of Bombay. He established himself in business and married a local girl named Mithibai , a native of the village of Datha, in 1874. Jinnah Poonja's business quickly expanded; he taught himself to speak English and relocated to the town of Karachi in the province of Sind. There his children were born, including his eldest son Mohammad Ali and his third daughter, Fatima. "With business contacts established with Grahams Trading Co.," wrote Jinnah, "my father started doing business in isinglass and gumarabic, in addition to his various other business interests." By then, Jinnah Poonja had business connections with a number of countries, in particular with England and Hong Kong. She continued:

[My] father would collect me and my two sisters at night and teach us to read and write English. He was a strict disciplinarian, and we had to behave in his presence during that tuition hour as if we were at school in our class-room. In our childish eyes father appeared a big man, one who could speak English so well. We envied him for it, and how we wished we could speak English as well as he did. Sometimes when we three sisters met and were in a playful mood, we would imitate father's English. One of us would say to the other, "Ish, Phish, Ish, Phish, Yes"; and the other would reply, "Ish, Phish, Ish, Phish, No." We took this game so seriously, feigning we were at last on the threshold of learning English, if we had not already mastered that language.

This dedication to family was shared by Jinnah Poonja's youngest sister. "Manbai Poofi would gather me, my sisters and my cousins round her after sunset," Fatima Jinnah recalled:

She was the centre of our eyes and ears, and we listened to her, enraptured by the bewitching way in which she would narrate her stories, night after night. She told tales of fairies and the flying carpet; of jins and dragons; and they seemed to our childish minds to be wonderful tales, stories out of this world.

Fatima Jinnah's devotion to her brother may have had its origins in their close-knit family. She lost her mother when she was very young, in 1894 or 1895. Her father, left with the responsibility of a large family and no wife to help care for them, aged prematurely. His business had collapsed, and he had to rely on his eldest son to help support the family. When Jinnah Poonja also died unexpectedly, Mohammad Ali Jinnah took full responsibility for his younger brothers and sisters. Fatima Jinnah became Mohammad's ward "at the age of eight," she reported, and she lived with him from the death of her father until he married for the second time in 1918. Mohammad oversaw Fatima's education, allowing her to enter the Bandra Convent school in 1902 despite her strict Islamic upbringing. In a time when Indian Muslim women were expected to stay at home and concentrate on raising and tending their families and husbands, he encouraged her plans to enroll in the Dr. Ahmad Dental College in Calcutta.

After the death of Mohammad Ali's second wife Ruttenbai Petit Jinnah in 1929, Fatima returned to her brother's household and lived with him until his death in 1948. She also accompanied him on his self-imposed exile in Europe from 1929 to 1935. When he entered politics in 1936 with the express aim of establishing an independent homeland for Indian Muslims, she supported and campaigned to spread his ideas. Her efforts won her a place as a delegate to the Bombay Provincial Muslim League Council in March 1947, a time when independence for all Indians was becoming more and more of a reality. Mohammad recognized the important role his sister played in helping him create his independent Muslim state, noting, "In the days when I was expecting to be taken as a prisoner by the British Government, it was my sister who encouraged me, and said hopeful things when revolution was staring me in the face. Her constant care is about my health."

We worked and fought for Pakistan so that we and the coming generations may live therein freely and in honour, to lead simple, honest and purposeful lives and not to suffocate in an atmosphere laden with fear and reeking with corruption.

—Fatima Jinnah

The greatest strain on Mohammad's health came through his efforts to obtain a separate state for Indian Muslims. Followers of Islam had always been in the minority among native Indians, but they had also for centuries been a ruling elite. From the early 16th century on, the Great Mughuls had ruled all India under an Islamic government centered in Delhi. For the most part, Muslims and Hindus left each other alone, but in the 18th century the Muslim rulers began a massive crackdown on Hindu worshippers. The Mughul ruler Aurangzeb destroyed Hindu temples and places of worship and reinstated special taxes on non-Muslims. The Hindu resistance to this oppression resulted in the breakup of the Mughul empire and the establishment of a number of small semi-independent states, some Muslim, some Hindu, and some neither. The British stepped into the power vacuum left by the end of the Mughul empire and made their own Raj out of the varied pieces left behind. By the mid-20th century, Muslims constituted about 25% of the total Indian population.

Fatima Jinnah and her brother represented only one of many Indian groups that sought self-determination in the breakup of the British Empire. The problem of self-government had plagued the British in India since the late 19th century. In 1885, a retired British official named Allan Octavian Hume assembled native Indians into a Congress for the purpose of promoting Indian unity. At first, the Congress was limited to acting only in an advisory capacity, but as time passed the influential lawyers and wealthy men that made up the Congress sought more and more power. For example, they asked that Civil Service examinations—competitive exams for government posts—be held in India as well as in England.

But the reforms were threatening to the Muslims; more Hindus than Muslims would benefit from moving the Civil Service exams to India. In addition, until 1835 the Indian government had used Persian as its working language—the administrative language of the old Muslim Mughal emperors. "Muslim schools still taught in Persian, so its replacement by English, intended merely as an efficient act of westernisation, had in fact discriminated between one Indian group and another," writes Brian Lapping. "When the Congress won easier access for Indians to the Civil Service, many Muslims feared that the beneficiaries would be Hindus only. They preferred British administrators."

Many Muslims broke with the Congress on the question of minority rights for practitioners of their religion. One of the splinter groups founded to speak to Muslim fears was the Muslim League. By 1937, Mohammad Ali Jinnah had become the leader of the League and was representing its interests in nationwide elections. Though he had originally been a member of the Indian Congress, he had become disillusioned with it. The Congress was dominated by Hindus, but, because it had some Islamic members and Muslims had voted for it, it claimed to represent all Indians. Mohammad rejected the Congress' claim and set out to create a united Islamic state from the scattered Indian Muslims. Between 1939 and 1947, he managed to unite Islamic India behind the idea of Pakistan: a separate Muslim state that would provide political equality and protection for Muslims.

By the end of World War II, the pressure for total independence from both Hindus and Muslims was becoming almost irresistible. "The Hindus believed themselves to be the natural successors to the British as rulers of all India," explains James Morris; "the Muslims believed themselves to be natural rulers per se, never subject to Hindu rule and never likely to be; the Sikhs [another religious community with a history of being persecuted by Muslims] believed themselves to be separate from, superior to and irrepressible by any other parties in the dispute; the British thought themselves, au fond, indispensable." In addition, there were a number of independent principalities whose rulers owed their allegiance to the Crown, rather than to the Empire.

The key negotiator in the dispute was the last British viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who helped create a division of the subcontinent that was accepted, if not acclaimed, by all sides. Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, and Mountbatten together devised a partition of British rule into two parts: India, dominated by Hindus, and Pakistan, dominated by Muslims. Each of the individual states was to choose which nation it would join in August of 1947. Most Indian Muslims were concentrated in the states of Punjab, Baluchistan, Sind, Jammu, and Kashmir, and the Northwest Frontier in the river valley of the Indus in the west, and the states of Bengal and Assam in Ganges delta in the east, where Muslims made up 50% or more of the population. Only in a few other states, including Delhi, Bihar and Orissa, Ajmer-Merwara, the Western India States Agency, and Hyderabad, did Muslims make up more than 10% of the total population. Because the Muslims were so widely scattered, the nation of Pakistan came to contain two geographically separate states: West Pakistan around the Indus valley and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) along the lowest part of the Ganges.

This division was unpopular with many extremists on both sides. On January 30, 1948, Gandhi himself was assassinated by a young Hindu fanatic who felt that the partition was immoral. There was also a massive emigration as people of one faith who lived on the wrong side of the border left home and moved to be with their co-religionists. "Eleven million people abandoned their homes and moved in hordes across the countryside, hastening to the right side of the new communal frontiers," writes Morris.

The roads were crammed with refugees, people clung to the steps of trains, or crowded upon their roofs, and the old gypsy confusion of India, the crowding and the clutter,

the always familiar scenes of exhaustion, bewilderment and deprivation, were multiplied a thousand times. Violence erupted on a scale never known in British India before, even in the Mutiny. It was like a gigantic boil bursting, an enormous eruption of frustrations and resentments suppressed for so long by the authority of Empire. Whole communities were massacred. Entire train-loads of refugees died on the tracks, to the last child in arms. In the Punjab gangs of armed men roamed the countryside, slaughtering columns of refugees, and thousands of people died unremarked in the streets of Amritsar.

The other problem facing Mohammad's new government was the question of Kashmir. This state, bordering on the northeast frontier of West Pakistan, was one of the independent states that was supposed to declare allegiance to either Pakistan or India. Mohammad confidently expected that Kashmir, with its majority Islamic population, would enter Pakistan as a Muslim state. In the same year, however, some armed Pakistanis invaded Kashmir to help in a local Muslim revolt. The ruler—who was a Hindu—fled the country and took shelter in New Delhi. While living there, he signed papers turning his country over to the Hindu Indian government. Indian and Pakistani troops fought in India for the next two years, until the United Nations established a cease-fire line in January 1949.

The stress of dealing with the refugee crisis and the problem of Kashmir took its toll on Mohammad Ali Jinnah's health. Recognized almost universally among the new Pakistanis as the father of their country, he had been given the title Quaid-e-Azam (the Great Leader). Mohammad might have been able to hold the nation of Pakistan together by force of personality, but his health broke down completely about a year after the partition. Tuberculosis, made worse by a longtime smoking habit and the fatigue and constant strain of the independence movement, contributed to his death on September 11, 1948. "Only a few months earlier," wrote Fatima Jinnah, "he had said in his address to the students of Islamia College at Peshawar, 'You will learn from your costly experience and the knocks that you shall have received during your life time.' To go his own way and to learn by hard knocks, that had been the dominant keynote of his character throughout his life."

After her brother's death, Fatima Jinnah became the chief focus for his program for the future of Pakistan. Pakistanis perceived her as her brother's political heir, and they believed that she spoke with his voice on affairs of state. In her early speeches, from 1948 to about 1958, she reiterated the themes that had dominated Mohammad's last years: the annexation of Kashmir, the fate of Muslim refugees in Pakistan and India, and the necessity of preserving democratic institutions in Pakistan. She also emphasized three themes of her own: the important place Islam held in the political life of Pakistan, the necessity of developing a feeling of unity and nationhood between East and West Pakistan, and the role Muslim women had played and would continue to play in the future life of the country. These themes continually appear in Fatima Jinnah's writings over the next two decades.

The speech she delivered in 1951 on the third anniversary of her brother's death demonstrates the ways in which she tried to rally support and press for unity between Pakistanis. She reminded the nation of Pakistan that "the problems crying for solution" at the time of her brother's death were still awaiting solution. Besides the Kashmir problem, there was the question of refugees, she continued:

[I]t should not be forgotten that it is a human problem, and we cannot allow the vast mass of humanity to remain in … misery for a long length of time. Let me remind you of the purpose for which Pakistan was established. It was … that Muslims may be enabled to lead an independent, honourable and free life according to their own concept of civilization, culture, education and economy. Freedom must be a reality for every individual and he should be able to live in an atmosphere where he can enjoy a peaceful and independent life.

Unfortunately for Fatima Jinnah's hopes, Muslim unity proved less strong than rivalries between East and West Pakistan and rivalries within the government. Liaqat Ali Khan, Mohammad's chosen successor and first prime minister of Pakistan, was assassinated in 1951. Fatima Jinnah continued to speak out on political issues in her annual addresses on Pakistan Day, on the anniversary of her brother's death, and on other occasions when she was invited to speak to the public. In 1953, she attacked Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru for having neglected to hold the promised plebiscite to determine the political future of Kashmir. In 1954, she addressed a public meeting in East Pakistan, urging national unity: "People of East and West Pakistan are one and we shall live together and die together." Later that year in a speech in Karachi, she pleaded for an increased number of women in professional services: "There are many ways in which women can contribute to the growth and strength of the nation.… Pakistan requires the services of a number of women social workers, women teachers and above all women doctors and nurses." In a 1957 speech, she warned of the moral and political decline of the country.

By that time, Pakistan had undergone two significant changes. First, it had become a republic, adopting a constitution that gave equal representation in the legislature to East and West Pakistan. Second, its military became an important part of the political process. On October 7, 1958, former General Muhammad Ayub Khan led a coup that overthrew the newly established constitution and established martial law. Ayub Khan introduced another constitution in 1962 and was elected to the presidency of Pakistan later that year.

It was Ayub Khan's military regime that brought Fatima Jinnah thoroughly into politics again. Outraged by his banning of opposition political parties, five parties united and supported Fatima Jinnah to run for president of Pakistan. They believed that only a person with the magic name of Jinnah could overcome the differences between East and West Pakistan and successfully oppose the military regime of Ayub Khan. Fatima Jinnah was simply too well-known and well-loved to be suppressed. In 1964, she announced that she would challenge Ayub Khan for the presidency in the 1965 elections. "Freedom from [a] foreign yoke is worthless unless it results in freedom directly to choose your own Government, Legislature and the Head of the State," she declared in a public speech in October 1964, "the sovereignty in a democratic free country must reside in the people. These elections will decide whether you wish to live in this country as free citizens or that you wish to hand over your ultimate power to others on whom you have no control today.… I am afraid another opportunity may not be afforded to you in the future." The elections were held January 2, 1965. Soon after the polls closed, the chief election commissioner declared Muhammad Ayub Khan the winner. Fatima Jinnah asserted later that month that the elections had been irregular: "The recent election campaign has amply demonstrated that in this system the people have no effective means of ensuring that their wishes are reflected and registered in the final results." Fatima Jinnah continued to work for Islamic unity between East and West Pakistan, invoking the name and spirit of her brother, until her death in 1967.


Ali, Chaudhri Muhammad. The Emergence of Pakistan. Columbia, 1967.

Al Mujahid, Sharif. Jinnah. Karachi, Pakistan: Quaid-i-Azam Academy, 1981.

Hamdani, Agha Husain. Fatimah Jinnah: hayat aur khidmat. Islamabad, Pakistan: Qaumi Kamishan bara'e Tahqiq-i Tarikh o Saqafat, 1978 (in Urdu).

Ispahani, M.A.H. Qaid-e-Azam Jinnah as I Knew Him. Karachi, Pakistan: Forward Publications, 1966.

Jinnah, Fatima. My Brother. Edited by Sharif Al Mujahid. Karachi, Pakistan: Quaid-e-Azam Academy, 1987.

Khan, Salahuddin, ed. and comp. Speeches, Messages and Statements of Madar-i-Millat Mohtarama Fatima Jinnah (1948–1967). Lahore, Pakistan: Research Society of Pakistan, University of the Punjab, 1976.

Lapping, Brian. End of Empire. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1985.

Morris, James. Farewell the Trumpets: An Imperial Retreat. NY: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1978.

National Archives of Pakistan. Accession List of Mohtarama Fatima Jinnah Papers. Islamabad, Pakistan: Department of Archives, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Government of Pakistan, 1987.

Wolpert, Stanley A. Jinnah of Pakistan. NY: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Kenneth R. Shepherd , Adjunct Instructor in History, Henry Ford Community College, Dearborn, Michigan