Remembering Amjadi Begum (1885 - 28 March 1947)

Durriya Kazi writes about the lone woman in the first working committee of the Muslim League – an indomitable opponent of the Raj

Remembering Amjadi Begum (1885 - 28 March 1947)
Amjadi Begum had to face difficult circumstances all her life. She lost her mother when she was a small child. A large extended family gave her love and support. Married to her cousin, Muhammad Ali Jauhar, at the tender age of 17, she was soon in the thick of political life alongside her husband and her mother in law, Bi Amma.

She had four daughters Zohra, Amna, Hameeda and Gulnar. Amna and Hameeda died tragically of tuberculosis five years apart - both at the age of 19.  Her husband’s property in Rampur was confiscated. He was banned from visiting Rampur, where the rest of his family lived. The printing presses of his newspapers Comrade and Hamdard were shut down and all sources of income dried up. Her husband spent many years in prison during which she not only cared for her daughters, but also traveled all over the country with her mother in law, Bi Amma, carrying on the mission of freedom and restoration of the Khilafat. She accompanied her husband at all his political conferences, addressing women in particular to motivate them to participate in the freedom movement. She was by his side at the first Round Table Conference in London, knowing he was too ill to survive the ordeal. She attended his funeral prayers in London and took what must have been a traumatic journey by ship and train to Jerusalem, where he was buried at Al Aqsa. She spent the remaining sixteen years of her life living alone with two loyal servants in a small house in Delhi’s Karol Bagh. During this time she continued to be active in politics and the freedom movement. Throughout these difficult times, she remained cheerful, forward-looking and passionate about freedom.

Her husband was famed anti-colonial leader Maulana Muhammad Ali

Unlike the usual perception of a mother-in-law in our part of the world, Bi Amma encouraged the young Amjadi to actively participate in politics

Amjadi Begum was asked by Jinnah to join the First Working Committee of the Muslim League,.the only woman amongst its 25 members. The All-India Muslim League’s Twenty Seventh annual session was held at Lahore, from the 22nd to the 24th of March 1940. The resolution was drafted by the WorkingCommittee, and approved at the general public session on 23rd March. During her speech of the women’s central sub-committee, on the 23rd of March 1940 at Habibiya Hall, Islamia College Lahore, Amjadi Begum became the first to call it the Pakistan Resolution.

Amjadi Begum was the daughter of Azmat Ali Khan, who was a high official in Rampur State. She received her primary education at home. Poetry had a prominent place in her home and there was a large library of literature and religious books.

In 1902, she married her cousin, the great freedom fighter Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar, who at that time was studying at Oxford University. Her mother-in-law Abadi Begum, was a firebrand and inspired her sons (and her daughter-in-law) to free India from British Rule.

Amjadi Begum addresses a meeting with the Quaid-e-Azam in attendance

She supported him throughout his career, traveling with him on every journey including his last to the Round Table Conference, 1930. She continued working for freedom even after his death. Unlike the usual perception of a mother-in-law in our part of the world, Bi Amma encouraged the young Amjadi to actively participate in politics and work for the independence of India from British rule as well as for Muslims through the Khilafat Movement, addressing public meetings whenever the opportunity arose. They traveled the length and breadth of India collect donations and support. Amjadi Begum even took her youngest daughter Gulnar, only about 9 at the time, with a collection pouch around her neck. Together they collected the handsome sum of Rs 40 lakhs (4 million).

Malcolm Healey, Governor of UP, in his speech in the Constituent Assembly while accusing Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar of inciting rebellion, said “Even the women of his household collect donations and go on the rampage of inciting unrest.” Mahatma Gandhi, in his Young India of the 29th of November 1921, wrote a special article about her entitled ‘A Brave Woman’, admiring her strong voice when giving speeches in Bengal, Assam and Madras and said she was truly the courageous wife of a courageous  man.

Working Committee of the AIML - Amjadi Begum in burqa

Turkish writer Halide Edib visited India after the death of Maulana Mohammad Ali and wrote: “The intermediary between me and purdah club was Begum Mohammad Ali. She has remained true to her husband’s teachings and as definite a character as one may meet anywhere. […] If Muslim women want to do things they must do it without leaving Purdah. She herself mixed with men, though she kept her veil...” She adds, “In the lecture hall of the Jamia, there were two types of women audience: one who sat on the same side with men and second, those who sat behind the stretched curtain. She sat alone on the platform at the back. She is neither with those who have surmounted the barriers nor with those who remained where they are. I think her seat at the lectures was symptomatic of her attitude.”

At the All-India Muslim League annual session held at Lucknow, 1937, she formed a separate section of the Muslim women to work under the Muslim League. This encouraged women’s participation in politics.

In support of the Khadi Movement she set up a Khadi Bhandar at Aligarh. She launched an Urdu daily Roznama Hind edited by her, that spread the message of freedom.
Gandhi appreciated Amjadi Begum’s calm fortitude: that except for permission to briefly meet her husband after his arrest, she continued her journey with Gandhi and others to motivate people to fight for home rule

When the Vice Chancellor Khawaja Abdul Majeed Saheb was arrested, she took upon herself to supervise the tasks of Jamia Millia Islamia. She established Hameedia Girls School in Allahabad, which flourishes today as Hameedia College.

Amjadi Begum participated in working committee of the Congress in December 1921 at Ahmadabad. She was elected Secretary of All India Khilafat Women’s committee. She was elected unopposed for a seat in UP in the general elections of 1946.

She worked hard, as did Bi Amma and Muhammad Ali Jauhar, for Hindu-Muslim Unity, joining the Maharashtra Home Rule League of Lokmanya Tilak along with Bi Amma.

When Muhammad Ali was arrested for the Khaliqdina Trial, from the train station Waltair (Madhya Pradesh ) she was traveling with him along with Gandhi, who wrote in support of Maulana Muhammad Ali Jauhar - holding him up as an inspiration for others. Gandhi appreciated Amjadi Begum’s calm fortitude: that except for permission to briefly meet her husband after his arrest, she continued her journey with Gandhi and others to motivate people to fight for home rule. Amjadi Begum and Bi Amma later traveled to Karachi for the famous Khaliqdina trial.

Her eldest granddaughter, Aziz Fatima, remembers her as a gentle, good-natured woman whose strongest expression of anger was “naik bakhat”. When she would hear her husband coming home with a raised voice, Amjadi Begum, or Jaddo as he called her, would immediately roll out her prayer mat and start reading nafl prayers until she could hear he had calmed down! They loved her visits to their home in Bhopal especially the little treats kept for them in the doli near her bed, which sometimes Aziz and her brother Umar would help themselves to when she was napping. She never complained about her hard life or the loss of her husband, although once Aziz saw her crying quietly on one of his death anniversaries.

She managed the marriages of her daughters with next to no funds. Zohra married Zahid Ali the son of Maulana Shaukat Ali, Amna married Mahmoodullah, a relative of Bi Amma, Hameeda married her cousin Majid Ali father of the artist Shakir Ali after his first wife died, and the youngest Gulnar married Shuaib Qureshi, a political associate of both Gandhi and Jauhar. She nursed her two dying daughters: Amna when Maulana Muhammad Ali was in prison, and Hameeda when he was obliged to go on tours. He stayed up all night nursing them whenever he could.

Amjadi Begum would ask Aziz and Khalida to reply to the many letters she received, who would only do so after she had agreed to pay them 4 annas! The two granddaughters accompanied her to the Allahabad Conference addressed by Jinnah and remember travellng in the train with Abdullah Haroon. She recalls a child was born at the venue of the conference, who was promptly named Jamhooria.

Aziz embroidered all the borders of her dupattas which were invariably white.

She was heartbroken when she heard she had died.

Amjadi Begum died on the 28th of March 1947 and was buried in the grounds of Khilafat House, Bombay. On her death, Quaid-e-Azam declared that her death was undoubtedly a great loss for the nation in particular and the Muslim women in general.

The long list of women who took part in the freedom movement is often overlooked by historians – some like Bi Amma and Amjadi Begum took on a political role, others lent their support to their fathers, husbands and brothers, contributed their meagre funds and jewelry, gave up their fine clothes to wear rough khadi.

The 23rd of March is also a day to honour their sacrifices.