In 2000, a woman sat in a car to engage in a motor procession to protest the military dictatorship. It was a standoff which lasted ten hours, with hundreds of policemen trying to force a lone woman to surrender until an overhead crane was used to tow her car away. That image, of Begum Kulsoom Nawaz protesting alone in support of her exiled husband, in a vehicle being forklifted, will remain etched in Pakistan’s history as a symbol of unwavering defiance in face of dictatorship.
Born to a Kashmiri family, Kulsoom Nawaz became the First Lady in 1990-93, 1997-2000 and 2013-2017, thus being part of a political legacy spanning almost three decades. She was diagnosed with lymphoma in August 2017, and had been undergoing treatment in London since then. A cardiac arrest in July irreversibly worsened her condition, leading to her devastating demise yesterday. It is tragic that in her three decades of being affiliated with politics, her last days were probably the most difficult, without her daughter and husband, who were sentenced to jail in Pakistan. It is hoped that this tragedy will propel the PTI government to set aside political grievances, and arrange easy passage for Nawaz and Maryam Sharif to pay their last respects.
It is important not to reduce Begum Kulsoom to just her role as a mother and wife. While she was more comfortable as a homemaker than as a revolutionary, she facilitated in her husband’s legacy by being a strong pillar of support for him, even when no one else in the party was. She was from a conservative family, yet when the time came, she stepped out in the political arena when few PML-N loyalists would dare to. Upon exile of her husband, she took the mantle and served as the President of the party, and led a movement for the restoration of democracy. Her resilience to break gendered conventions and show more grit than any of the men in her party appears to be passed down to her daughter Maryam, who for all her political rivalries, can never be accused of not being brave.
In a society with such patriarchal strongholds, the women who have come out of politics have proven to be exceptionally strong, unwavering and committed. We thank the legacy of women like Fatima Jinnah, Nusrat Bhutto and now Begum Kulsoom for paving the way for future generations to follow. Strong women, may we know them, may we be them, and may we raise them.