Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan: The Inaugural First Lady of Pakistan

Begum Rana Liaquat Ali Khan’s name has gone down in history not only for being Pakistan’s inaugural first lady but also for being extremely generous and compassionate. In light of the saying generosity is the most natural outward expression of an inner attitude of compassion. Rana Liaquat Ali contributed tremendously in the development of the new born state of Pakistan. Born on 13th February 1905 in Almora India as Sheila Irene Pant to a senior British Army officer she had a comfortable and luxurious childhood. Young Sheila obtained a B.A degree in Economics besides doing B.T in Religious Studies in 1927. She began her career initially as a school teacher by joining Gokhale Memorial School after passing the Teachers Diploma from the prestigious Diocesan College Calcutta.  Her zest for acquiring higher education caused her to obtain a double M.Sc. in Economics and Sociology with Honors in 1929.    In 1931 she was appointed as an Economics Professor in Indraprastha College University, of New Delhi. The same year she met Liaquat Ali Khan as he came to Indraprastha College University, to deliver a lecture on law and justice.  The next year they both got married and Sheila changed her name to Rana Liaquat Ali Khan. It was after her marriage to Liaquat Ali Khan that Begum Rana Liaquat became politically active initially by resisting the Simon Commission. Rana making use of her professorship assembled her college students to accompany her to the Legislative Assembly to hear her husband Liaquat Ali’s debate on Simon Commission. Liaquat Ali Khan won the debate amidst supporters carrying play cards with “Simon Go Home” stated on them.   Rana’s active role in the Pakistan movement began in 1933 when she accompanied her husband to the United Kingdom to convince Mr. Jinnah to return to Indian and resume the Leadership of All India Muslim League.  After Mr. Jinnah’s return to India Rana became an executive member of the League besides being appointed the chairperson of the party’s economic division.  In 1942 as British India faced a great threat from imperial Japan Rana organized Muslim women according to Mr. Jinnah’s instructions. Furthermore women’s volunteer corps for nursing and first aid was also established in New Delhi during this time.  Rana Liaquat Ali successfully organized hundreds of Muslim women to support the cause of liberating India.  Begum Rana Liaquat Ali after the creation of Pakistan became the inaugural first lady of the country. She being the first lady initiated many reforms for social progress of women and development of children. Moreover, she worked tremendously to increase the participation of women in Pakistan’s politics besides dealing with the challenge of establishing health services for migrant women and children.  She continued her contributions for the betterment of women even after her husband was assassinated in 1951.  It was after the death of her husband that Rana Liaquat Ali began representing Pakistan internationally initially by being delegated to the United Nations in 1952. She was also appointed Pakistan’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, Italy and Tunisia from 1954 to 1966 by the government of Pakistan. After the debacle of East Pakistan Begum Rana Liaquat Ali became a close ally of then President Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and was even appointed the Governor of Sindh.  Moreover, she became the first woman chancellor of Karachi University and the Sindh University. Begum Liaquat Ali remained a strong supporter of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto even after his downfall and constantly opposed Zia ul Haq.  Rana Liaquat Ali was a recipient of many awards owing to her tremendous contributions to the society. She received Jane Adam’s Medal in 1950 besides being given Woman of Achievement Medal and the title Mother of Pakistan the same year.  In 1959 she was honored with Nishan-i-Imtiaz she was also honored with Grand Cross of Orange Nassau in 1961.  She was also given the International Gimbel Award in 1962, Woman of the World Award in 1965 and Vaveliera di Gran Croce in 1966.  She was also awarded the United Nations Human Rights Award in 1978 for her tremendous contributions for humanity. Begum Liaquat Ali Khan passed away on 13th June 1990 and was laid to rest next to her husband in the Quaid-e- Azam’s Mausoleum.  She shall always be remembered as a true gem of the society.



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