About Begum Shahnawaz

The family to which Begum Jahan Ara Shahnawz belonged , Known as the main family , from a title probably conferred in the late fifteen century , belonged to one of the largest tribes of the Punjab , the Arians . Tradition has it that the tribe migrated from Arabia to Egypt and from there came o the Indian sub-continent sometime in the eleventh century. Ishaqpur, a small village about four and half miles from Lahore , used to be family seat until Emperor Shah jahan acquired the land as the site for the new Shalamar garden. In exchange for it he gave the family two revenue-free villages. The two villages as well as the custody of the gardens, were retained by the family till the 1950s, as both the sikh and British governments officially recognized the Emperor’s gifts.

A new village was built on the grand trunk Road , about one mile from Shalamar Gardens , are become known as Baghbanpura. IT was there , in her grandparents’s house, that Begum shahnawz was born on 7th April,1896.

Shafi founded the Punjab muslin league and was a Consistent advocate of the Muslim right to separate electorates. He use his powerful position as a member of the Imperial Council and later as education and law member of the viceroy’s executive council to argue for both community and nationalist causes. Begum Shahnawaz emerged from a family background of purdah and of giving birth to her beloved daughter Tazi at the tender age of sixteen to be a major advocate of woman’s causes both from the platform of the all India women’s association and the Muslim league.

Like many other elite Indian women, she moved into the mainstream of the freedom movement as British rule drew to a close and displayed an influence and autonomy which appears remarkable not only for her generation, but for contemporary south Asia women.

The modern reader may also be surprised by the close social contacts which were maintained between the Baghbanpura Arain family and their political rivals. Muslim league politics were as fractious as they are today, but without personal animosity. Equally striking is the warmth with which begum Jahan Ara Shahnawaz describes her relationship with Uncle Moti Lal Nehru.

A further reminder of a bygone era is the public services ethos of the Arain family. Its entry into public life was not with a view to make money, but rather to expend it in the advancement of community and national causes. None of this is to present the late colonial period as a golden era. The narrative clearly brings out the importance of family connection and influence in political advancement. The author on occasion displays a patronizing elitist attitude towards the less fortunate whose cause she is advocating. Similarly there is little warmth in the reference to her husband whose own political contribution was notable, but receives in these memories only passing mention. Father and daughter thus deserve to be made available to a modern audience through this reprint because of the important insights it provides into the social and political mores of the late colonial era. Its dramatis personae include not just the influential Arain family of Lahore, but the larding Indian and British figures at the endgame of empire.

The observations on such leading figures as Jinnah and Gandhi sustain the interest in a sweeping narrative which begins in the eighteenth century and concludes with Ayub khan’s promulgation of material law. The behind the scenes description of the round table and simla conference are the especial interest to the historian. A topic frequently ignored in general accounts, but which comes across clearly in this memoir, is the significance of the congress Muslim league propaganda war in the United States of America. The government of India equally founded itself outflanked by assiduous congress lobbyists during the Second World War and made considerable efforts to put its view across. Begum jahan ara shahnawaz was well placed to argue the muslim league case in America. This contribution has been seldom acknowledge and is impossible to quantify, but may well have been one of her most significant achievements in the Pakistan cause.

Finally, father and daughter fits well into this series because of the insights it provides into the differential impact and ambiguities which surrounded the tearing asunder of the subcontinent in august 1947.

Forewarned by the nawab of mamdot of an impending sikh attack on batal , where many arain tribesmen were settled, the author sends her car to fetch uncle Rashid. Jahan Ara shahnawaz’s family connection with the Nehrus are then deployed to prevent the assault with both uncle Rashid ringing Nehru and her mother who was still in new Delhi seeing Pundit Jawahar Lal Nehru, who respected her much, and he promised to help in the matter. While ordinary people were being swept along by the tide of communal violence, elite connection still counted for something and were it was possible could be used to stem its flow. Tazi and I could not sleep the whole night, the author recalls, but thank God, Batala was saved.
These were but small victories in a situation in which communal violence used by politicians to serve their own ends spiraled out of control. Like many elite women, the author and her eldest daughter played important humanitarian roles in the weeks which followed. Indeed, Tazi, who was to die in an air tragedy in 1948, organized the women’s voluntary services which helped in the resettlement of refugee women and orphans. An office was set up in the former residence of Rai Bahadur Ram Saran Das at 11 egerton road. Tazi personally prevented the looting of the owner’s property and helped his son, Gopal Das pack the belongings when he returned from delhi to Lahore several months after partition. This episode which author records in a matter of fact way provides yet further evidence that the elite experienced the upheaval of paritition differently to the common people. It also reminds us that an iron curtain did not come down in the months immediately after partition. Indeed the freedom of movement across the border at this time remains an envied goal for those currently seeking a normalization of relations between the subcontinent’s distant neighbors.

These memoir beckon to us from an era long past, reaching out across from generation for which British raj was the most palpable manifestation of life, to a generation for which the idea of British rule is totally unreal. She begins with an account of her grandparents in the eighteenth century and ends with the promulgation of the first military rule in Pakistan. this book offer rather more than a political relationship between two generations giving us an insight into various facets of the author’s life, it is in this sphere that jahan ara shahnawaz speaks for herself . the Victorian age had lingered on longer in India than in England and only arranged marriages were socially acceptable, the rules being a little bit more strict in India, as the bride and groom were expected to see each other for the first time at the wedding ceremony itself. It is remarkable therefore that she should mention matters of her heart. At the age of ten or there around, she nurtured a tenderness for a young suitor who was a friend of her brother. She recalls vividly her shock and grief when he suddenly died of pneumonia. She tells us touchingly how she had to hide her tears when she heard her father approach. She was writing in the main about politics, she has refrained from naming her suitor, it show the depth of her emotion that she did not consign this completely innocent episode to oblivion.

Her presents married her to Main Shah Nawaz, the widower of an aunt, thus quiet older to her, she was a very dutiful wife, but does not, in these pages, display any deep sentiment for her husband. When she became the Municipal Commissioner of lahore she had heeded her father’s advise and disregarded her husband’s. Main Shah Nawaz died at the age of sixty two, the same age at which her father had died. She describes here the strain she had to undergo during the forty day mourning period. She leaves us to conclude that if not socially, emotionally she was liberated.

The oldest avenue for women’s liberation in south asia has been literature. Begum shahnawaz contributed prolifically to women and literary magazine and published a novel Husu Ara Begum which enjoyed wide popularity. Being the daughter of Sir Muhammad Shafi, her family back ground opened for her avenue of social reform and party politics. She came into contact with the maharani of baroda during an All India ladies conference. She reserves her highest praise for Mrs. Kamla Devi Chattopadhya, the outstanding author and parliamentarian as one of the best women in India. National and communal politics went side by side and she was persuaded by the begum of Bhopal to form an All India ladies Conference as well.

The most memorable meeting that she recounts is her audience with HM Queen Mary, the Duchess of York (now the Queen Mother) and the four year old princess Elizabeth (now HM Queen Elizabeth II). The nature of her political struggle however, conducted her far from the hospitality of Buckingham palace to one his Majesty’s prison in Lahore. This was on the eve of independence, an event accompanied by the most bestial violence. She relates how, after seeing starving survivors behind rows and rows of corpses, rana liaquat ali summoned and berated the entire Punjab cabinet.

Begum Shahnawaz was one of the privileged few to see the warmth behind Fatima jinnah’s cold exterior, and is most candid about her sister in law ruttie jinnah: she was a person who felt lost and was deliberately trying to shock people. Perhaps she was attracted to Ruttie because the age difference between her and Mr. Jinnah was about the same as between Begum Shahnawaz and her husband but unlike in her own case jinnahs’ marriage had been the result of a love affair. With jinnah himself, her equation was not very easy. This was mainly because her father and Jinnah were often at odds. When Shafi opposed to Lucknow pact, Jinnah disaffiliated the Punjab Muslim League.

Sir Muhammad Shafi was an ardent advocate for separate electorates, but the Lucknow pact carried also a system of weight ages by which the Muslim majority for the Punjab and Bengal was reduced to minority, while the weight age enjoyed by Muslim in minority province was marginal, giving them no substantial advantage. Thus it is quite clear that it was Shafi who had justice on his side. The situation was unchanged in 1928 when Jinnah and Shafi clashed again over cooperating with the Simon Commission. Jinnah chose to cause a split in the Muslim League rather than abandon the Congress—- a body from which he had resigned eight years ago. Jinnah wished to boycott, Shafi, the president for that year who chose to cooperates with the British. Shafi was vindicated when the Congress presented Jinnah with the Nehru report—resilling from all the mutually agreed guarantees for the minorities, it is some what odd that she omit to mention that the arch revolutionary Maulana Hasrat Mohani had sided with shafi rather than Jinnah.

Issues apart, shafi was personally perturbed at having to differ with Jinnah. According to Begum Shahnawaz when Shafi was seriously ill, he called out to Jinnah in delirium. But Shafi and Jinnah were reconciled only two days after Ruttie’s death. Sir Muhammad Shafi was in his element during the Round table conference. Ramsay McDonald had been his guest at Lahore and despite sir Fazl-i-Hussain’s attempt to dampen his spirits. Sir Muhammad Shafi received resounding applause when he spoke. Shafi almost, but not quiet, was able to conclude a communal settlement with Mr. Gandhi. After consulting some fellow delegates Gandhi had come back to speak of his limitations. Jahan Ara confesses that she understood Gandhi’s limitation when he was assassinated. It was during the Round Table Conference that she got to know Mr. Jinnah well and to appreciate his legal acumen. Mr. Jinnah had detected a flaw in a draft which every one else had overlooked.

The last tragedy described here is the death of her daughter Mumtaz Shahnawaz in 1948 very shortly after writing a book called the Heart Divided. Had she survived she might have written a sequel to the present work.these are very few glimpses of what the reader has in store. The age she presents was historic, the characters she potrays was heroic and she herself was an insider. Her account bears the impress of an extraordinary personality as well as a seasoned stylist.

Muhammad Reza Kazimi