DECEMBER 11 marks the 21st anniversary of the death of Begum Shaista Ikramullah, one of the few Muslim women who took part in the independence movement. She was one of the most outstanding and charismatic women, being a politician, a diplomat and a social activist.
She was born on July 22, 1915, in an educated and aristocratic Bengali family in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Her father Hassan Suhrawardy, who served in the British army and retired as lieutenant-colonel, also acted as the vice-chancellor of Calcutta University.
Begum Shaista received her education from the famed Loreto College in Kolkata, and became the first Muslim woman to earn her PhD from the University of London. During her academic life, she was immensely inspired by Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah and actively participated in Muslim Women Students Federation and later in All-India Muslim League.
She also had the honour of being one of the two women representatives in the first constituent assembly in 1947, and also had the privilege of representing Pakistan at the United Nations in 1948. She also served as Pakistan’s ambassador in Morocco from 1964 to 1967.
Begum Shaista was also an exceptional literary figure. She wrote for several famous Urdu magazines, English newspapers and had several books to her credit of which From Purdah to Parliament (1963) became a bestseller.
She was the niece of prime minister Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, and married Mohammed Ikramullah, a close companion of the Quaid, who served as Pakistan’s foreign secretary in 1947 and was ambassador of Pakistan to Canada, France, Portugal and the Great Britain.
Begum Shaista had four children of which the youngest is Princess Sarvath of Jordan. After an illustrious political and diplomatic career she passed away on Dec 11 in the year 2000 in Karachi.
Published in Dawn, December 11th, 2021