The history of the subcontinent is known to be betraying and misleading. Owing to the influence of corrupt and powerful officials, our history has largely been defined not by the people but the rulers of the time.
One clouded chapter of our history is the sad demise of Fatima Jinnah. Not only was she Quaid-e- Azam’s devoted sister and companion, she was also a dental surgeon, biographer, stateswoman, co-founder of Pakistan’s Women’s Association and one of the leading founders of Pakistan.
So what do we really know about the death of Fatima Jinnah?
On the evening of July 8, 1967, Fatima Jinnah attended the wedding of Mir Laiq Ali’s daughter but returned after a short while due to seemingly low spirits. As per habit, she locked up the house, threw the keys in the kitchen and took her usual glass of milk with her. Next morning, Fatima Jinnah’s friend and neighbor, Begum Hidayatullah, was summoned to open Fatima Jinnah’s bedroom where she was found dead. The Commissioner of Karachi and Inspector General of Police, who were both present at the scene, noticed her door to the gallery was unusually open and the glass of milk was also missing. Fatima Jinnah was known to be stern with the servants of the house and had fired her cook three days earlier replacing him with a new one. This new cook was nowhere to be found following her death.
The first funeral prayers of Fatima Jinnah were offered at her residence early morning, where a huge crowd of people had gathered by the time the funeral procession began towards Jinnah’s mausoleum. Senior leaders from the government and those from all other political parties were part of the procession that kept growing in size as it progressed. By noon, the procession consisted of 600,000 people. When some people tried to come closer to the body, the police began baton charging and tear gassed the crowd causing chaos as some people retaliated by throwing stones. This incident left one man dead and several injured.
The burial reached its end by 12:55 pm.
On August 2, 1971, a local Urdu newspaper published an article that openly linked Fatimah Jinnah’s death to murder. The article included comments from one of the men who was hired to prepare her body for burial, Hidayat Ali aka Kallu Ghusal. He claimed that Fatima Jinnah had visible wounds on her body and was bleeding. His other companions confirmed his reports as well as stating that they had been asked to remain silent.
The murder theory gained further momentum when Hassan A. Sheikh, who had handled Fatima Jinnah’s election campaigns against Ayub Khan, openly linked Fatima Jinnah’s death to political murder. This evoked similar sentiments from other noted personalities. Syeda Fatima, the wife of Syed M. Zafar, also revealed that when she started to give ghusal to Fatima Jinnah, she noticed deep injuries and blood on her person.
The late would-be Begum of Bhopal wrote in her memoir Abida Sultan: Memoirs of a Rebel Princess(2003), “I found Miss Jinnah lying surrounded by blocks of ice. There were blue patches on her face, mainly the left eye. There was some blood on the covering sheets, but I could not detect whether it had come out from the ear, nose or mouth.”
Questions were raised as to why no one was allowed to see Fatima Jinnah’s body before her burial, why wasn’t a post mortem conducted, or why wasn’t there never an inquiry held to look into this matter closely.
These questions are yet to be answered.
In January 1972, a regional court accepted the petition, submitted by a man named Ghulam Sarwar Malik, regarding the matter of Fatima Jinnah’s death. In his application, Ghulam Sarwar stated his admiration and devotion to Fatima Jinnah in addition to proclaiming that he believed Fatima Jinnah was murdered. He raised concerns of how Fatima Jinnah became a symbol of hope for the entire nation and that this threatened the position of several people in power at the time. Furthermore, no common man was allowed to see her dead body or come close to it; those who tried were beaten up and tear gassed by the police. Ghulam Sarwar urged the court to commence an inquiry into the matter and Akhtar Ali Mehmood was eventually appointed as the prosecution in the case.
2003 was celebrated as the Year of Fatima Jinnah, to celebrate her contributions towards the consolidation of the nation. The year, however, was inflicted with strife and controversy when former General Attorney and ‘honory’ secretary of Jinnah, Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, declared that Akhbar Pirbhai, a leading Indian lawyer and Jinnah’s nephew, had demanded a meeting with Ayub Khan at the time of Fatima Jinnah’s death. In this meeting, Pirbhai had objected to the burial of Fatima Jinnah without a post-mortem and demanded a judicial inquiry into the matter in addition alongside cross-examining the doctor who pronounced Fatima Jinnah dead due to heart failure.
Both of these demands were rejected by Ayub Khan.
There have been numerous speculations about Fatima Jinnah’s life after the death of Quaid-e-Azam and the only accurate summary of the facts was her biography titled ‘My Brother’ that she penned in 1955. This book wasn’t published until after 32 years in 1987 and that too with omitted contents; notably regarding how her brother was betrayed by his counterparts and her disdain towards Liaquat Ali Khan.
After Jinnah’s death, Fatima Jinnah was publicly acknowledged as his successor and a highly respectable personality. However, it was commonly known that those in power at the time viewed her as a threat to their sovereignty.
In his book Shahabnama, Qudratullah Sahab explicitly described lengths the government went to keep Fatima Jinnah’s voice suppressed, as she was not allowed to address the nation until three years after the Quaid’s death. The establishment would insist every time to review her speech before broadcasting it. Fatima Jinnah would refuse every time. On the third death anniversary of the Quaid, she finally addressed the nation on Radio Pakistan without knowing that the transmission had been interrupted in between to censor some parts of her speech. Despite the excuses of Radio Pakistan calling it a technical error, the government faced much criticism and condemnation over the matter.
On October 7, 1958, martial law was imposed on Pakistan that appointed Field Marshal Ayub Khan as Chief Marshal Law Administrator who later continued to run elections for Presidency in January 1965. It was then that the opposition parties were able to get out a hesitant Fatima Jinnah from her virtual reclusion to face Ayub Khan in the presidential election. They expected Miss Jinnah to sweep the elections, but that day never came. And even though Ayub Khan went on to win the elections, his popularity was considerably challenged since Fatima Jinnah defeated him in two of the largest cities, Karachi and Dhaka. As such, significant concerns regarding electoral malpractice were raised.
Probably due to the political hostility, at the time of her death, the establishment tried to ignore her final wish to be buried next to her brother. However, due to fear of public discontentment and reaction, they allowed her body to be buried 120 feet away from the Quaid’s grave.
No establishment ever made the effort of looking into this matter or giving Fatima Jinnah the stature that she deserved. Her life of isolation and disappointments after the death of her brother remain shrouded in mystery – her death was an equally enigmatic episode.
The last memory of Fatima Jinnah will probably always be her body being taken in a procession of 600,000 people, moving towards Quaid’s mausoleum and being buried amidst showered rose petals, flowing tears and shaking lips chanting, “long live the mother of the nation, long live Pakistan”.
balouch, A. (2015, January 24). How Fatima Jinnah died — an unsolved criminal case. Dawn, p. .
Paracha, N. F. (2014, May 4). Fatima Jinnah: A sister’s sorrow. Dawn, p. .
Shahab, Q. (1986). Shahabnama. : .