Amjadi Bano Begum ­— A Fierce Leader

The political environment of early 1900s was a tug of war between various political factions, with Hindus trying to dominate by acting as sole representatives of the subcontinent, Muslims struggling for their rights, and the stumbling British Raj clumsily attempting to hold on to the skidding reins of power.
All farrago, power tug, isolation and the deep feeling of discontent had long sowed the desire of a separate homeland in the hearts of many Muslims. However, it was not until 1940, when Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah clearly stated that unlike England, India was not a homogeneous state so a parliamentary rule based on the Majority Principle would be the cause of ruin in India. It was after this that the idea of a separate homeland took root among Muslim masses. Having gained community support, Muhammad Ali Jinnah called All India Muslim League’s 27th Annual session in Lahore, scheduled to take place between March 22–24, 1940. Leaders found this to be the perfect opportunity to present the idea of an ‘independent homeland’ for the Muslims of the subcontinent. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, for this purpose, made a 25-member committee to draft a resolution. Among those 25 members was one woman of iron resolve — Amjadi Bano Begum. 
Amjadi Bano Begum was the wife of Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar and daughter of Azmat Ali Khan, who was a high-ranking official in the State of Rampur. Amjadi Bano Begum began her political career when the British imprisoned her husband during the Khilafat Movement. Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah having witnessed her struggle and sensing her talents, extended her an offer to work on the draft of the resolution calling for a separate homeland for Muslims, along with other members of the working committee. Dejected at the sufferings of Muslim community and laden with the desire to do something for them, she accepted the offer. Amjadi Begum worked tirelessly on the draft along with her male counterparts; her signature on the draft is proof of her dedication to the cause. She attended all meetings and addressed rallies in Lahore. While working on the draft, she dreamt of a separate homeland, a progressive state, where women have as much liberty as men, where women lead from the front. It was she, who while addressing the women’s central sub-committee at Islamia College, Lahore on 23rd March, first referred to the Resolution as ‘Pakistan Resolution’, a title that was later picked up and chanted by millions.
Amjadi Begum’s mother-in-law, Abadi Bano Begum, commonly known as Bi Amma, unlike conventional mother-in-laws of that time, encouraged her to join politics. When the British imprisoned her husband for leading the Khilafat Movement for the restoration of the Ottoman Caliphate, Amjadi Begum made sure to keep the spirit and resolve of the Movement alive in the absence of her husband. She hosted rallies, instigated agitation, criticized the British vociferously, and called them out openly for their injustices. In order to collect funds for the Movement, she travelled extensively throughout the subcontinent and with her efforts and diligence, she managed to gather an amount of 4 million rupees. She accompanied her husband on all his tours and attended all sessions of the Khilafat Movement. In 1930, she travelled to London, supporting her husband at the Round Table Conference, which proved to be his last. With a heavy heart, she returned to India and resumed her political duties. She made sure that the Maulana’s message of freedom from the clutches of the British Empire stayed alive.
Amjadi Begum negated the British perception of “Orthodox Conservative Muslims” when she travelled with her husband on his political trips. For the British, the sight of women clad head to toe in burqa, taking part in politics, expressing their opinions loudly, criticizing them openly was unique as well as terrifying. Once, Malcom Henley, the Governor of UP and a strong critic of the Maulana, said: “Even the women of his household collect donations and go on the rampage of inciting unrest.” 
Amjadi Begum travelled Bengal, Assam and Madras addressing the masses, jolting them to fight for their rights. Her efforts were admired by Mahatma Gandhi, who praised her courage by writing an article acknowledging her efforts and titled her as the ‘Brave Woman’. 
A Turkish writer, Halide Edib, who visited the subcontinent during those times, wrote about Amjadi Begum’s bravery: “The intermediary between me and purdah club was Begum Mohammad Ali. She has remained true to her husband’s teachings and as definite, a character as one may meet anywhere. To me she was the type of those Turkish women of twenty-eight years ago who threw themselves into the service of their country, especially in the social side. She will not be hustled. She wants change but in her own good time. If Muslim women want to do things, they must do it without leaving Purdah. She herself mixed with men, though she kept her veil, which is that of Turkish women of 1908 of middle class. In the lecture hall of the Jamia, she sat alone on the platform at the back. I think her seat at the lectures was symptomatic of her attitude.”
Quaid-i-Azam held Amjadi Begum in high esteem. He realized that Amjadi Begum could bring consciousness among women and motivate them to join politics. She proved her abilities through hard work, promoting political consciousness amongst Muslim women, and brought them under the League’s banner. She was a leading representative of the UP’s Muslim women during the freedom struggle.  Amjadi Begum, on the instructions of Quaid-i-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, planned a separate wing for women in All India Muslim League in 1937. She encouraged Muslim women of purdah to work for the League under the sanctity of purdah. Amjadi Begum wanted the message of freedom to reach far-off places so she launched an Urdu risala ‘Roznama-e-Hind’
Being a vigorous advocate for women’s education, she wanted every woman to get her basic right of education. She established a girls’ school, Hameedia Girls School, in Allahabad. The school aimed to impart both modern and religious education to girls on modern parameters.
Amjadi Begum was the first in line among many Muslim women to join politics. Her existence in the political arena challenged conservative Muslim perception regarding women's participation at the forefront. She encouraged many other women to use their education and talents positively by working for a better and bigger cause. It was her efforts too that served as an inspiration for women like Lady Abdullah Haroon, Lady Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, and Rana Liaquat Ali Khan to start leading from the front. Lady Abdullah Haroon was committed to women’s education, especially in the far-flung areas of Sindh. She established a school in her own residence for women to access education easily, and also set up an organization known as ‘Anjuman-e-Khawateen’. Lady Ghulam Hussain Hidayatullah, many times led agitation against the unjust policies of the British and Congress and hoisted the Muslim League flag on Sindh Secretariat building in February 1947. Rana Liaquat Ali Khan, was the economic advisor to Jinnah during the Pakistan Movement. After independence, she served as the First Lady and launched many women development programs. All the women of Pakistan movement including Fatima Jinnah had a deep reverence for her. Quaid-i-Azam understood the importance of women's participation on every front; he validated her struggle and that of the other Muslim women who joined her cause, when he said: “No nation can rise to the height of glory unless your women are side by side with you. We are victims of evil customs. It is a crime against humanity that our women are shut within the four walls of the houses as prisoners. There is no sanction anywhere for the deplorable condition in which our women have to live.”

At the end of the 27th session of All India Muslim League, when it was time for a picture to preserve the memory of the historical day, Amjadi Begum proudly stood at the front, leaving a resounding message that women are in no way less than men, that there is no barrier that women cannot surpass, ground that they cannot conquer and goal they cannot achieve with their resolve and intelligence. 
Her life is a vivid example for female leaders that they can be excellent at planning, organizing and making the right decision at the right time. Amjadi Begum, through her life, proved that women can lead from the front and purdah is not an impediment unless we deem it as such. When British arrested Maulana on charges of inciting violence and confiscated all his property and income, making it difficult for Amjadi Begum to get by and bear the responsibility of her children, she stood unfazed by it all. Till her last days she worked assiduously for the creation of Pakistan. Unfortunately, she did not live to see her dream of Pakistan coming true and bid farewell to this world to travel to her eternal abode on March 28, 1947, leaving behind an everlasting legacy for Pakistani women that they can be determinant, courageous, fierce and independent leaders. HH

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