September Issue 2014

By | Education | People | Published 10 years ago

Professor Anita Ghulam Ali was one of those rare personalities — resolute in mind and firm in opinion — who connected instantaneously with people on an equal footing. This was her most endearing quality, and won her many hearts, even though she was no-nonsense enough to often appear brusque.  Her authoritative façade actually concealed an openness and receptivity to ideas, sensitivity to other people’s needs and interest in the lives they lived.

Anita, who devoted her life to the cause of education, was born in a privileged and well-known family in Karachi in 1938 and brought up by enlightened parents — Feroze Ghulamally and Shireen Nana — in a vibrant environment surrounded by learned and cosmopolitan men and women. Feroze Ghulamali, Anita’s father, who studied law at Aligarh University, was a distinguished judge of the Sindh High Court, and Shireen Nana, a well-educated housewife who strove to strike a balance between eastern traditions and values and western notions of modernity, served for about 20 years as a volunteer at the Marie Adelaide Leprosy Centre. Her grandfather, Khan Bahadur Nuruddin Ahmed Ghulamally, was an eminent educationist who served in the Government of India Education Service. And Anita’s great-grandfather, Shams-ul-Ulema Mirza Qaleech Beg, was a versatile scholar of repute, known for his significant and rich contribution to Sindhi literature.

Given her antecedents and the atmosphere she was raised in, it was but natural that Anita imbibed a love for learning and teaching. Witnessing first hand in her grandfather’s life the joy and the many rewards teaching engendered, Anita knew what she would do for the rest of her life. She was greatly enamoured of her grandfather who doted on her. “I was his favourite grandchild till the very end (in 1974), when he died at the age of 90,” Anita wrote in one of her brief memoirs. She remembered him as “an imposing man with great big moustaches, generous, and who gave vent to his rip-roaring temper more than seldom!”

Anita grew up in the decades pulsating with political consciousness and social commitment. The 1950s was the golden decade for the city of Karachi in terms of camaraderie, religious and ethnic diversity, trust in humanity and tolerance for people’s proclivities. The neighbourhood in the Cincinnatus Town, Garden East, Karachi, where Anita grew up, was a mix of culturally and religiously diverse households — Muslim, Hindu, Christian, Parsi and Jew. She studied at the St Laurence Convent located in the neighbourhood. In several articles and interviews, she reminisced about her youth, saying she was a naughty, boisterous and tomboyish girl who thoroughly enjoyed outdoor ventures. But she also had a great community spirit. She joined Girls Guide Association in Sindh when she was a teenager, and later served as its President. As a young woman she also worked as a volunteer at the Red Cross, Lyari, and maintained steady contact with Lyari thereupon.


Her rebellious streak — rebellion against repression — and yearning for justice got her involved in student politics at Karachi University, from where she completed her Master’s degree in Microbiology and earned a gold medal. Her other passion was sports. As a university student she captained the volleyball team and was part of the badminton and table tennis teams.

In the late 1950s, she joined Radio Pakistan Karachi as an English newscaster. She spoke with clarity and her  voice was well modulated, sonorous and authoritative. Many listeners of the early days of Radio Pakistan still remember her daily rendering of the news.

Anita began her career in education in 1961 when she joined the Sindh Muslim Science College as a lecturer in Microbiology. During this period, she became a part of the Pakistan College Teachers’ Association and served as its vice president and later as president of the association. In the 1970s, she got actively involved in the movement for nationalisation of colleges. She led several protest rallies which were baton-charged by the police and she was once arrested and briefly put in jail.

Anita’s multi-faceted personality and her interest in politics and development led her to connect with diverse groups and movements of the times and participate in the collective struggles of vulnerable groups in society. During General Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law, she joined hands with labour groups and trade unionists from the platform of Rabita Labour Committee, to raise a voice against the violations of the fundamental rights of workers. Late journalist Minhaj Barna was elected chairperson of the committee, while Anita served as its vice chairperson. During this period, she actively participated in the meetings of the Women’s Action Forum.

In 1985, she was appointed managing director of the Sindh Teachers’ Foundation. The Sindh Education Foundation was established by the Teachers’ Foundation as a semi-autonomous institution in 1992 and Anita became its managing director and remained associated with it till 2013. The Foundation committed itself “to educating and empowering children and communities towards social change by improving access to educational facilities” for those living in impoverished areas in Sindh. One of its notable initiatives, the Adopt-a-School-Programme, was envisioned by Anita. Based on the concept of public and private partnership, the programme attracted a lot of interest and support.

Anita was twice appointed as education minister, but she resigned on both occasions as she could not compromise on her integrity and refused to allow any political interference in her work. With that unimpeachable integrity, it is fitting that the President’s Pride of Performance medal was bestowed on her, as were the Sitara-e-Imtiaz and the Benazir Excellence Award for her contribution in the field of education.

“Commitment is basic to honesty, dedication, friendship, duty and service. Clarity, focus, purpose and respect for human values follow,” she wrote in one of her memoirs. Indeed, Anita epitomised all these qualities.

This article was originally published in Newsline’s September 2014 issue under the headline, “A Woman For All Seasons.”