In my search for visual sources on the events of the 1940 Lahore Resolution, I accidentally found this picture, of all places, on Wikipedia.
Obviously, this is the official picture of the delegates taken after the Lahore resolution had been passed. We can recognize and name almost all the prominent male figures in the picture as they are amply recorded in our history. But the woman in her head-to-toe black burka is a mystery both literally, for we cannot see her face, and metaphorically because she is elided from our history.
Who was this woman? Did she participate in the discussions about the future of a Muslim state? And if so, did she represent the women of this future Muslim state?
I can only place her through association as if she, a woman, has no individual subjectivity free of reference. As if she can only be a dark contrasting shadow, a specter, in an otherwise bright frame. She obviously is not related to the man on her left, as there is a wider space between them. She was probably related to the man to her right, as the distance between them is negligible, their hands almost touching. It is hard to see her as a presence in her own right. But she is there in this most historical picture of Pakistani history recorded as a “dark” presence on the most auspicious day of Pakistan’s fight for independence.
Should I read her symbolically: as an emblem of women’s future in Pakistan, as the unresolved question that haunts Pakistan today, as an assertion for inclusion in history. What does her presence teach us? Is it a reminder? Is her presence a splinter in the flank of this group, for she is literally on the right flank, not too deeply lodged in the heart of the group but still struck in the collective corporate body of the “group” (for this is a group photo) as a constant reminder: “I was there” she seems to be saying “when you men were deciding our destiny.” A fact that we should remember so that we can acknowledge the existence of women—a majority—in our national space, not as an unresolved problem, or as secondary passive citizens but as equal inheritors of a nation imagined and demanded on march 23, 1940.
In our historical education about the creation of Pakistan, we learned about the exploits of pretty much all the male leaders present in this picture; we have seen their larger-than-life-posters plastered on city walls. But we have never heard or read a single word about this woman, who, let us not forget, was present that day when history was being made. What do her erasure and her silencing teach us?
So, on this day let us resolve to retrieve her story; let us stand against all those with a patriarchal and chauvinistic view of history. Let us move this spectral figure to the very heart of the group. Yes to the center, right next to Mr. Jinnah.
[As Muhammad Ahmed, one of our readers in commens below, informed us, her name is Begum Amjadi Bano, wife of Maulana Maulana Muhammad Ali: