The daughter of Mian Sir Muhammad Shafi, Jahan Ara was brought up in a traditional Muslim family lifestyle in Lahore, but attended school and was taught English, encouraged by her father and mother, who had herself abandoned the restrictions of purdah to accompany her husband in social life. At the age of fifteen Jahan Ara married Mian Muhammad Shahnawaz, a barrister who would become a prominent Punjab politician in the 1920s. After returning to finish her education at Queen Mary’s College, Lahore in 1912, she became active in women’s emancipation, welfare and social reform causes, including the Lahore Municipal Committee, Punjab Red Cross, All-India Infant Welfare Association, All-India Muslim Women’s Conference, and from 1920 the Muslim League.
Shahnawaz was a member of the British Indian delegation, speaking to the concerns of Indian women specifically at the conference.
For additional biographical information, see the official delegate Who's Whos. See also Emery Kelen's caricature, from his portfolio of delegates at the Round Table Conference.
- Shahnawaz acted as Private Secretary to her father at the 1930 Imperial Conference in London
- 13th November 1930: Shah Nawaz’s speech at the opening plenary was a huge success, with congratulatory notes passed to her by leading British delegates and the international press reporting on her message. She campaigned to change British mis-perceptions about the backward state of women in India (Father & Daughter and Mukherjee, 2018:203)
- She opened her speech with: “Mr. Prime Minister, my sister Delegate's presence and mine in this historic gathering is an illustration, indeed, of the fact that the so-called unchanging East is unchanging no longer. Ten years ago who could have thought of Indian women coming to London and taking part in the deliberations of such a Conference? To-day, not only a Hindu, but a Muslim woman, belonging to a family the women of which have always observed strict purdah, are actually sitting with their brethren around one Table in order to evolve a suitable constitution for their country.” (Indian Round Table Conference, Proceedings)
- Shah Nawaz sat on the Franchise Committee.
- 20th November 1930: Moonje suggested in his diary that Shah Nawaz had told him that after Muslims had supported the demand for Dominion Status he should support all of Jinnah’s 14 points. Regarding Shah Nawaz he continued: “She has a charming face though she is mother of a few children and has also a charming and clear voice with clear pronunciation. Her speech was enlivening just as the presence of ladies in the midst of men is enlivening and pleasing. Of course not much seriousness is attached to their speeches.” (NMML: Moonje Diary)
- November-December: Shah Nawaz attended dinners and social events hosted by Lady (Nancy) Astor, female MPs at the Carlton Club, the British-American Dance Club, Royal Empire Society and the British Federation of University Women. (Mukherjee, 2018:204)
- On 13th December the “Women’s World” column of the Evening Standard reported that: “It is easy to understand the feelings of the Indian lady who confessed to me the other day that while she and her friends appreciated entertainments on a large scale planned in honour of the Indian delegates, they enjoyed better the smaller and more intimate parties with the opportunities they afforded for a real talk with English-women. Lady Shafi, the Begum Shah Nawaz and Mumtaz Shah Nawaz had ample occasion of enjoying unlimited conversation at Lady Horridge’s fork luncheon. No more than twenty guests were invited and each was expected to help herself to her food.” (Evening Standard)
- 20th December 1930: Shah Nawaz and Subbarayan submitted a joint memorandum to the franchise committee asking for full adult franchise, arguing against the property qualification. In later discussions it was agreed that this was not immediately practicable, and emphasis was placed on increasing female franchise. (Mukherjee, 2018:206)
- 1st January 1931: Moonje noted in his diary “Mrs Subrayan [sic, Subbarayan] just like every other Hindu is meek and docile and completely under the thumb of Mrs Shah Nawaz. She has no communal [leanings?] while the Shah Nawaz is just quite the reverse. She is very sweet but firm, intensely communal but very successful in camouflaging of Mrs Sobrayan by tall talk of nationalism and love of Mother India, very cunning and aggressive though she conceals the aggressiveness in words [of] sweet sentimentally. Consequently appearance of unity is kept in between the two lady members by one of them[,] the nebulous Hindu Mrs Subrayan completely subordinating herself to the virile and overpowering personality of Mrs Shah Nawaz.” (NMML: Moonje Diary)
- 5th January 1931: an “at home” was co-hosted by the two female delegates at the first session, Begum Shah Nawaz and Mrs Subbarayan, at the Indian Social Centre at No.8. Chesterfield Gardens, at which visitors would have the opportunity to meet both the Prime Minister and his daughter, Ishbel MacDonald.
- 11th March 1931: the Begum met Dunnett of the New Delhi Reforms Office and suggested the reports of the sub-committees be translated into Indian vernacular languages (Hindi and Urdu especially) and made widely available. She suggested that the translations adhere to spoken rather than written forms of these languages and that the price be kept low. Dunnett suggested that this was a matter for provincial governments and that there might not be a popular appetite for subcommittee minutes. (National Archives New Delhi)
- 13th November 1931: Shah Nawaz submitting a memorandum to the Minorities Committee with Naidu, putting forward the claim for full franchise and no reservation of seats issued by various women’s organisations, although Subbarayan did back the submission. (Mukherjee, 2018:214). Shah Nawaz introduced the memorandum as follows:
- “When I went back to my country [after the first session] I was surprised to find that the proposals that Mrs. Subbarayan and I had put before you on behalf of our country-women were not acceptable to them. Women belonging to almost all castes, creeds and sections said that they were not prepared to accept and special qualifications or allocation of seats… I have to submit for your consideration, Sir, that most of the women of my country belonging to all classes will not accept any special treatment or qualifications which means a position of sex inferiority. This is the mandate we have brought and this is what I place before you.” (Second Session, Proceedings of the Minorities Committee, p. 1377)
- Shah Nawaz attended as the only representative of Indian women. Aware of the difficulties of implementing full adult franchise she put forward a new suggestion, for group voting. This was rejected in favour of the Lothian Report recommendation that proposed enfranchising wives and widows aged over 21 of male property owners or those who passed a literacy qualification. She was struck down with influenza and… but had a letter read out on … where she stated:
- “But what is the most important point of all? You may have Constitutions with dozens of sections, dozens of appendices and dozens of communal awards; you may put them all in the waste paper basket if you do not a union of hearts. To my mind the value of this Conference has been that Indians and Englishmen have got to know each other as they never knew each other before and have got to trust each other as they never trusted each other before. Federation is founded on trust, not on fear, on compromise and not on selfishness. To me the chief value of the Conference has been that I have made, I hope, many personal friends. Some in the ordinary coui.se of events I may not see again, but there is not one that I shall ever forget.” (Indian Round Table Conference, Third Session, p. 151)
- August 1933: Attended Joint Select Committee hearings, arguing for the extension of provisions made in the White Paper, though she differed from many Indian women’s organisations in supporting the Communal Award. (Mukherjee, 2018:224)
- 1935: Shah Nawaz represented India at the League of Nations Traffic in Women and Children committee. (Mukherjee, 2018:139)
- 1935: Represented India also at International Labour Conference
- 1937: elected as a member of the Punjab Legislative Assembly, becoming the first Muslim woman to be a Parliamentary Secretary
- Mobilised women with the National War Front, also working for the Information Department in New Delhi.
- 1946: re-elected as a member of the Punjab Assembly.
- 1946: Represented Muslim League on tour of USA
- 1947: arrested during Pakistan Movement
- 1947-54: Member of Constituent Assembly. Re-elected Member of West Pakistan Assembly in 1955 and 1961
- 1954: Leader of Women’s Delegation to China
- 1965: Retired from active politics
- Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi: Dr BS Moonje papers.
- National Archives, New Delhi: Reforms/1931/23/31-R
- Indian Round Table Conference: 12th November, 1930 - 19th January, 1931, Proceedings (London: H.M. Stationery Office; 1931)
- Indian Round Table Conference (Second Session) 7th September, 1931-1st December, 1931 Proceedings of the Federal Structure Committee and the Minorities Committee, Vol. III (Calcutta: Government of India Central Publications Branch; 1932): https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.38561
- Indian Round Table Conference (Third Session) (17th November, 1932—24th December, 1932) (London: H.M. Stationery Office; 1933)
- Evening Standard, “Women’s World” (13 Dec 1930)
- Sumita Mukherjee, Indian suffragettes: Female identities and transnational networks (New Delhi: Oxford University Press; 2018)
- Subbarayan & Begum Shah Nawaz, “Women’s History: Extracts from Memorandum of Mrs. Subbarayan and Begum Shah Nawaz, circulated to the Franchise Sub-Committee. It was circulated at their request to the members of the Minorities Sub-Committee of the Round Table Conference held in 1930”, Pakistan Journal of Women's Studies = Alam-e-Niswan, 17:2 (2010), pp. 111-113
- Sarojini Naidu & Begum Shah Nawaz, “Letter to the Premier From Mrs. Naidu and Begum Shah Nawaz” [16 Nov 1931], Indian Journal of Gender Studies, 6:1 (1999), pp. 129–133: https://doi.org/10.1177/097152159900600109
- Begum Shah Nawaz, “Indian Women and the New Constitution”, Asiatic Review 29 (July 1933), pp. 435-458
- Begum Shah Nawaz, Women's movement in India (New York: International Secretariat, Institute of Pacific Relations; 1942)
- Jahan Ara Shahnawaz, Father & Daughter: A Political Autobiography (Lahore: Nigarishat; 1971)
- reprinted Karachi: Oxford University Press; 2002
- Manchester Guardian, “Peace Appeals at the Round Table: Hindu-Moslem Problem: Premier’s Effort for Agreement: Powerful Support from Women Delegates” (24 Dec 1930), p. 12
- Azra Asghar Ali & Shahnaz Tariq, "Begum Jahanara Shahnawaz and the Socio-Cultural Uplift of Muslim Women in British India", Journal of the Research Society of Pakistan 45:2 (2008), pp. 115-33.
- Geraldine Forbes, Women in modern India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 1996)