Known as the founder of the progressive women’s movement in Pakistan and a left-wing leader in her own right, Tahira Mazhar Ali passed away on Monday. In her the Pakistani left lost a great supporter; she will be remembered fondly by her comrades, all of whom learnt from her compassion and determination. Daughter of Sir Sikander Hayat Khan, landlord and premier of pre-Partition Punjab, and wife of famous leftist journalist Mazhar Ali Khan, Tahira Mazhar Ali charted out her own path and, some would argue, surpassed the legacy of the two men. Tahira Mazhar Ali, once she had chosen the path at a very young age of fighting for the rights of the people, continued to do so till the very end – devoting her energies to the rights of the working class, especially women. Having married leftist student leader Mazhar Ali Khan at a young age, Tahira was amongst the founders of the Democratic Women’s Association (DWA) in 1950, affiliated with the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP). The DWA is considered to be Pakistan’s first independent rights group for women. In 1971, Tahira was amongst the few who protested against the Pakistani state’s war in the former East Pakistan. In the Zia era, she joined other leading women rights activists to form the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) in 1981 to resist the Islamisation agenda of the military dictator.
Tahira also put her income into Mazhar Ali Khan’s Viewpoint, which became the breeding ground for some of the best journalists today. Even in her last days, she was part of the central committee of the National Workers Party and Workers Party Pakistan before health issues took over and she could not continue. At the age of 85, and at a time when many leftists have given up and joined more lucrative interests, Tahira Mazhar Ali stayed true to the cause of socialism. And she was no arm-chair communist. More than anyone else, her positions and politics came out of years of struggling with the working people. In her own words, to
her activism was not a ‘profession, it was life’. She walked shoulder to shoulder with the great leftist leaders of the 1960s and 1970s, including Sajjad Zaheer, Mirza Ibrahim, Sibte Hassan and Wali Khan. No one could have predicted that this daughter of the elite would live her life as an icon for working class men and women alike. Tahira Mazhar Ali’s legacy will continue to inspire all those struggling for the rights of women and the working class.