Begum Bhutto remembered


A 90th-birthday tribute

Pakistani politics— an exclusively man’s world— is outrageously discriminatory against women. Pakistan’s founder Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah  had time and again warned the nation that without women standing shoulder to shoulder with men, there could be no progress. No doubt our women despite enormous hurdles in the way to empowerment, have achieved much but still they have a long way to go. They have to demolish anti-feminine taboos, distorted religious inhibitions, bigotry of the powerful clerics and restrictions imposed by feudalistic customs that continue to straightjacket space for progress of rural women.

Whatever limited freedom Pakistani women are enjoying today they owe it to pioneering seniors, especially those great women who can be counted on fingertips. Surely, Pakistan’s history would not be complete without mention of those women who played a lead role in struggle for Pakistan. One cannot forget Bi Amma, widow of Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar who in recognition of her contribution to the freedom movement, was given a place of equality as member of All India Muslim League Working Committee— virtually the Politburo of the party led by MAJ.

Although there were many more that had deep impact, but one cannot undermine four or five of them on top of the ladder who proved to be catalysts, -namely Madre Millat Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah,sister of the Quaid; Begum Raana Liaquat Ali Khan; Begum Nusrat Bhutto; the martyred Benazir Bhutto; and Asma Jehangir. Each one has contributed immensely for the emancipation and empowerment of women in Pakistan.

For the larger interest of democracy she even forgave those in the opposition who had opposed Bhutto

Begum Nusrat Bhutto has had the singular distinction of taking on two dictators, one more ferocious than the previous, when her husband Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was incarcerated by them for his opposition to military dictatorship. She led the PPP– that ZAB had introduced in the national political arena in the face of strongest opposition by the forces of status.

Begum Bhutto was chosen by destiny to play the role of a crusader like her ancestor Salahuddin Ayubi. Her date of birth March 23 (1929) was not just coincidental. When she was 11 years old the Lahore Resolution was adopted for seeking the political rights of the Muslims of India. It was again a strange coincidence that General ‘Tiger’ Niazi laid down his arms to Indian General Arora on 16 December 1971 in the city where in 1906 All India Muslim League was established. On the same day in 1977, Begum Bhutto was brutally injured by General Ziaul Haq’s storm troopers during a Test match at Gaddafi Stadium. On seeing Begum Bhutto in their midst the teeming crowd broke into a deafening crescendo of “Bhutto Zindabad!”

Bhutto’s mock trial and later judicial murder on the orders of four judges from the majority province as against his acquittal by three judges from the smaller— continues to hang like an albatross around the neck of Pakistan’s superior judiciary.

In the limited space here one cannot do justice to the life of struggle, blood, toil and tears of Begum Bhutto. It is a small tribute to her on her birthday anniversary and to honour Pakistani women who stood by her when most of the male leaders of her party had preferred to indulge in the pleasures of life and new wives when politics had become a Herculean challenge to pursue under General Zia.

Begum Bhutto kept ignited the populist aspirations of her husband and his devoted followers by keeping aloft the flag of defiance against the dictator. Initially she was alone but later Bhutto’s “Dearest Daughter” joined her. And that is when the team of mother-daughter served as the catalyst that transformed their peaceful efforts into the ultimate return of democracy that has been rendered now once again into a mess by male leadership.

Begum Bhutto’s most outstanding contribution was towards formation of the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) against Zia’s dictatorship. She did not make it a matter of personal ego but for the larger interest of democracy she even forgave those in the opposition who had opposed Bhutto either on their own or in cahoots with General Zia . Only a woman of big heart could sit with such people. But then for all the Bhuttos, it is the cause that matters and not person or personal ego.