Photo: Maheen Sumrani / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)
Born: February 13, 1905
Born Place: Almora, India
Died: June 13, 1990
Death Place: Karachi
Years of service: 1947–1951
Spouse: Liaquat Ali Khan (m. 1932; d. 1951)
Education: Master in Science (MSc)
Begum Ra’ana Liaqat Ali Khan (Urdu: رعنا لياقت على خان, born Sheila Irene Pant; February 1905 – 13 June 1990), was the First Lady of Pakistan from 1947 to 1951 as the wife of Liaquat Ali Khan who served as the 1st Prime Minister of Pakistan. She was one of the leading woman figures in the Pakistan Movement along with her husband , and a career economist, and prominent stateswoman from the start of the cold war till the fall and the end of the cold war. Ra’anna was one of the leading woman politicians and nationwide respected woman personalities who started her career in the 1940s and witnessed key major events in Pakistan. She was one of the leading and pioneering woman figures in the Pakistan Movement and served as the executive member of Pakistan Movement committee working under Muhammad Ali Jinnah. She also served as economic adviser to Jinnah’s Pakistan Movement Committee and later became First Lady of Pakistan when her husband Liaqat Khan Ali became Pakistan’s first prime minister. As First Lady of Pakistan, she launched programs for woman’s development in the newly founded country. Later, she would start her career as a stateswoman that would last a decade.
In the 1970s, she joined hands with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s political movement and joined the socialist government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, elected prime minister at that time. She was one of the most trusted and close government and economical advisers to Bhutto and his government, and had played influential role and involved with many key economical decisions taken by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto led the appointment of Ra’ana as the Governor of Sindh Province, and she took the oath on 15 February 1973. Ra’ana was the first woman Governor of Sindh as well as first Chancellor of University of Karachi. In 1977, Ra’ana along with Bhutto and his party, and won the parliamentary elections of 1977, but did not take the gubernatorial office due to martial law imposed by General Zia-ul-Haq, Chief of Army Staff of Pakistan Army. Ra’ana went on to work and dedicated her life for the social and economic benefit of women of Pakistan till her death in 1990. She died in 1990 due to cardiac arrest and was buried in Karachi, with full state and military honours given to her in her funeral. Because of her services and efforts for medical and woman development and woman empowerment, Ra’ana is commonly known as “Māder-e-Pakistan” (English translation: Mother of Pakistan).
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Sheila Irene Pant was born in Almora, now in Uttarakhand, India, to a Kumaoni Christian family. She is also known as “Almora ki beti “. Her father, Daniel Pant, served in the United Provinces Secretariat. Of Kumaoni Brahmin (a high caste of Hindus) heritage, the Pant family was a relatively recent convert to Christianity in 1871. Pant attended the University of Lucknow, where in 1927 she was award a BA degree in Economics and a Bachelor of Theology in Religious Studies. In 1929, she obtained a double MSc in Economics and Sociology. She began her career as a teacher in the Gokhale Memorial School after completing the Teachers Diploma Course from the Diocesan College, Calcutta. She was appointed as Professor of Economics at Indraprastha College, Delhi, in 1931 and met Liaqat Ali Khan in the same year when he visited to deliver a lecture on law. The couple married in 1932, making her Khan’s second, polygamous wife. At this time, she converted to Islam and took the name Begum Ra’ana Liaqat Ali Khan. After the reorganisation of the Muslim League, Begum Ra’ana devoted herself to the task of creating political consciousness amongst the Muslim women society of the British Indian Empire. During this time, Ra’anna became an executive member of Jinnah’s Working Committee and served there as economical adviser. Her struggle for emancipation and support for Pakistan continued till the creation of Pakistan for Muslims of India in 1947.
With her husband, Ra’ana strongly opposed the Simon Commission. While a Professor of Economics, Ra’ana intensely mobilised students from her college and went to the Legislative Assembly to hear her husband’s debate carrying placards of “Simon Go Home”. With Liaquat Ali Khan winning the debate, she became an instant hero with her friends. She later sold him a ticket to a stage show to raise funds for flood relief in Bihar. Ra’ana proved to be Liaquat Ali Khan’s constant partner and companion. She became politically involved with her husband and played a major role in the Pakistan Movement. She became a defining moment in Pakistan’s history when she accompanied her husband to London, United Kingdom in May 1933. There, she and Khan met with Jinnah at Hamstead Heath residence, and successfully convinced Jinnah to return to the British Indian Empire to resume the leadership of the All India Muslim League. Jinnah returned to India, and Ra’ana was appointed as an executive member of the Muslim League and the Chairperson of the Economic Division of the Party.
In 1942, when it became apparent that Imperial Japan was near attacking India, Jinnah summoned Ra’ana said to her “Be prepared to train the women. Islam doesn’t want women to be shut up and never see fresh air”. To undertake this task, Ra’ana organised Muslim women in the same year, when she formed a small volunteer medical corps for nursing and first aid in Delhi. Begum Ra’ana played an important role in creating political awareness among women. Ra’ana was among the aspiring women in South Asia and encouraged hundreds of women to fight for Pakistan shoulder-to-shoulder with men.
Begum Liaquat died on 13 June 1990 and was buried next to her husband in the precincts of the Quaid-e-Azam’s Mausoleum. With her has ended a historic period for the women and youth of Pakistan who, in future generations, will no doubt seek inspiration from Begum Liaquat’s life and contributions to the emancipation of women.
HONOURS AND LEGACY
Ra’ana is considered one of the greatest female leaders Pakistan has produced. In Pakistan, she is given the title of “Mother of Pakistan“, received in 1950. Ra’ana continues to be seen as a symbol of selfless service to the cause of humanity and uplift of women. In recognition of her lifelong struggle for women’s rights, she was awarded the United Nations Human Rights Award in 1978. Her other many awards and medals include the Jane Adam’s Medal in 1950, Woman of Achievement Medal 1950, Mother of Pakistan in 1950, Nishan-i-Imtiaz in 1959, Grand Cross of Orange Nassau in 1961 (the Netherlands), International Gimbel Award 1962, Woman of the World in 1965 chosen by the Turkish Women’s Association, Ankara, and Vavaliera di Gran Croce in 1966 (Italy).
- United Nation’s Human Rights Award (1978)
- honorary doctorate in Economics (1967)
- Knight Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic (1 March 1966)
- Woman of the World, Turkish Women’s Association (1965)
- Grand Cross of Orange Nassau (1961)
- Nishan-i-Imtiaz (1951)
- Mother of Pakistan in 1950
- Jane Addams Medal in 1950
- Woman of Achievement Medal 1950
- Government of Pakistan honoured her with the highest military honour Nishan-e-Imtiaz.
- Queen Juliana of the Netherlands conferred on her the Grand Cross of Orange–Nassau.
- Recipient of the International Gimbel Award for service to humanity (1962).
- United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights for her outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of the human rights embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other United Nations human rights instruments (1978).