She was a symbol of empowerment
Her life will continue to inspire us all!
Begum Hamida Habibullah was elected MLA from Haidergarh in 1969 and served as state minister of social welfare, national integration and civil defence from 1971–73 and tourism minister from 197174. She was also a social worker who worked for education and empowerment of women. The city fondly remembers her for her multifaceted personality and contributions
In the passing on of Begum Habibullah, the pride of Lucknow, our country has lost a great personality who has left behind an indelible legacy. She was the personification of all those qualities that make a person great – what Aristotle described as “magnificence and magnanimity” and Alexander Harvard as “virtuous leadership”. Above all, she was compassionate and made it a point to help those in need.
From a young age, she demonstrated the courage to follow her heart. Born and brought up in Hyderabad, she used to visit Lucknow with her mother during the freedom movement. In a conversation, she recalled that “Mahatma Gandhi was very active in Lucknow and was advocating the burning of everything that was foreign. There was my grandfather (a judge of the High Court) on the one hand who wouldn’t hear anything against the British while on the other, my father (a lawyer and judge qualified from England) and I were ardent followers of Gandhiji!”
Her husband, General Enaith Habibullah, had the distinction of founding the National Defence Academy in Khadakwasla. They were from contrasting family backgrounds – he from an ultramodern Anglophile family and she from an ostensibly conservative but highly educated and forward-looking one with a strong sense of ground reality. Both were idealists and she never hesitated to say that “it was a wonderful marriage”.
As an Army wife, her contribution to the welfare centres was much appreciated and is still recalled with nostalgia by the families of the erstwhile jawans.
Begum Habibullah’s list of accomplishments is indeed commendable. She was a brilliant student, an MA and gold medallist from Osmania University and a degree holder from Putney Col- lege in England. She used the latter opportunity to travel around Europe with her mother and friends before returning to India to marry her future husband .
She was a member of the UP Legislative Assembly from 1969–74, minister of state, government of UP from 1971–73 and member of the Rajya Sabha from 1976–82. Soon after her husband’s death, she served as secretary general and then president of the Indian Council for Child Welfare. In this capacity, she cared for the welfare of street children and improved the working conditions of the adoption homes. All the while, she never lost touch with the villages she had visited during her political career.
As a chairperson of SEWA, Begum Habibullah along with Runa Bannerji and Sehba Hussain did wonders for the upliftment of women and the revival of the art of Chikankari. She motivated and empowered thousands of women as the president of the Avadh Girls’ Degree College and the Talimgah-e- Niswan, a school for Muslim girls founded by her late mother-in-law and her sister (which was the first of its kind for Muslim girls in purdah). It started with three girls and now, as an Inter College, has over 3,000 students – many of whom followed careers of their choice.
Gen and Begum Habibullah’s children have done remarkably well. Wajahat Habibullah joined the IAS and had an illustrious career. Nazli Siddiqui is a committed medical professional. Late Rumanna Hussain was a gifted artist and remembered with high regard by the artist community.
Begum Hamida’s gracious hospitality was legendary. The “open house” during Eid at her residence, the Habibullah family home that brought together all sections of society, was always a memorable event.
At the glorious age of 101 years, she was perhaps the youngest of us all – positive, energetic, and full of fun. Her dress sense, coupled with grace, elegance and charm, was unparalleled. Begun Hamida Habibullah’s exemplary life will continue to inspire us all!
▪ Begum Hamida Habibullah with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
▪ (Clockwise from top) Begum Hamida Habibullah in her earlier days; with family and her husband General Enaith Habibullah; with her great grandsons; Begum’s grieving son Wajahat Habibullah; relatives and friends paying tribute to the departed soul; her body being brought to Habibullah Estate in Lucknow and an earlier picture of Begum Hamida Habibullah at her house.