What do we really know about Fatima Jinnah’s death?
History of the subcontinent is known to be one of the most betraying and misleading ones. Due to commissioned authors, influential corrupt officials and powerful rulers, it comes as no surprise that these histories do not belong to the people; they belong to the rulers of the time.
One such clouded chapter of this history is the death of Fatima Jinnah. More than just being Quaid-e-Azam’s devoted sister and companion; she was a dental surgeon, biographer, stateswoman, co-founder of Pakistan’s Women’s Association and one of the leading founders of Pakistan. 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 as she seemed in 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, when Fatima Jinnah could not be awakened, her friend and neighbor Begum Hidayatullah was summoned who got the door to her bedroom opened to discover that Fatima Jinnah had passed away. Commissioner of Karachi and Inspector General of Police were present at this time. They noticed her door to the gallery was unusually open and the glass of milk that she would take before sleeping every night 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.
Her close family and noted personalities were notified who were the only ones who got to see her one last time.
The first funeral prayers of Fatima Jinnah were offered at her residence early morning, led by Maulana Ibn-e-Hassan Charjooi. A huge crowd of people had gathered outside Fatima Jinnah’s residence when the procession began towards Jinnah mausoleum where she was to be buried. Senior leaders from the government and those from all other political parties were part of the procession. Fatima Jinnah’s body was carried in an open van protected by four men of the National Guards from the Muslim League. The procession kept growing in size as it progressed as rose petals were showered on her from the rooftops. The procession stopped at the Polo Ground where the funeral prayers, led by Muhammad Shafi were to be offered. There were already people waiting there in thousands and when the procession finally continued there were at least 600,000 people present by noon. When some people tried to come closer to the body, the police began baton charge and tear gassing the crowd causing chaos as some people retaliated by throwing stones. This incident resulted in one man dying and several injured. The burial reached its end by 12:55 pm.
On August 2, 1971, a local Urdu newspaper published an article that linked Fatimah Jinnah’s death openly to murder. The article included comments from one of the men who were 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 stating that were asked to remain silent.
The murder theory gained further momentum when Hassan A. Sheikh, who had handled her election campaigns against Ayub Khan, openly linked Fatima Jinnah’s death to political murder. This evoked similar sentiments from other noted personalities. Syeda Fatima, 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 regarding why no one was allowed to see Fatima Jinnah one last time before her burial, why was there no post mortem conducted and why was 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 alongside proclaiming that he believed Fatima Jinnah was murdered. He raised concerns of how Fatima Jinnah becoming a symbol of hope for the entire nation threatened the position of people in power at that time. Furthermore, no common man was allowed to see her dead body or come close to it and those who tried to 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 appointed as the prosecution in the case.
The year of 2003 was celebrated as the Year of Fatima Jinnah as a tribute to her contributions towards the consolidation of the nation. However, this year was inflicted with strife and controversy as well when Syed Sharifuddin Pirzada, former attorney general of Pakistan and ‘honorary’ secretary of Jinnah, declared that Akhbar Pirbhai, a leading Indian lawyer and Jinnah’s nephew, after some inquiries of his own 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 alongside asking to cross-examine the doctor who certified Fatima Jinnah dead due to heart failure. Both of these demands were rejected by the President.
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 was not published until after 32 years in 1987 and that too with omitted contents regarding how Jinnah was betrayed by his counterparts and her disdain towards Liaquat Ali Khan. It won’t come as a surprise if the book wasn’t published during Fatima Jinnah’s life due to government pressure but then again, there is considerable proof as to how Fatima Jinnah herself hesitated to publish the book as Pakistan was only 8 unstable years old and especially after the assassination of Liaquat Ali Khan in 1951.
After Jinnah’s death, Fatima was publicly acknowledged as his successor and a highly respectable personality. However, it is commonly known that rulers of the time viewed her more as a threat to their sovereignty.
Qudratullah Shahab, in his book Shahabnama, describes explicitly as to what lengths the government went to keep Fatima Jinnah’s voice surpressed 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. It was on the third death anniversary of the Quaid that she addressed the nation on Radio Pakistan without her 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 was faced with 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. The general expectation was Miss Jinnah would sweep the elections but that day the nation lost to Ayub Khan. Even though Ayub Khan did go on to win, his popularity was considerably challenged since Fatima Jinnah defeated him in two of the largest cities, Karachi and Dhaka. She won from Hyderabad as well. 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 and her death was an equally enigmatic episode. The last of her will probably always be remembered as her body was 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”.