KARACHI: Professor Anita Ghulam Ali, a prominent name in the educational circles of Pakistan and a recipient of the Sitara-e-Imtiaz for her lifetime contribution in this realm, passed away at the age of 80 on Friday.
The eminent educationist, who was being treated for respiratory disorder at South City hospital for the last three months, was also remembered by many as a prolific English news broadcaster of the 1960s with her familiar news intro: "Radio Pakistan; the news read by Anita Ghulam Ali".
She was the daughter of Feroze Ghulamally Nana, a distinguished judge at the Sindh High Court, and Shireen Nana. Her grandfather, Nuruddin Ahmed Ghulamally, was also an eminent educationist who served as the Sindh director of public instructions, and her great-grandfather was Shamsul Ulema Mirza Qaleech Baig, who is regarded as the father of modern Sindhi poetry and prose with the contribution of 392 books.
Anita began her career in 1961 as a lecturer in microbiology at the Sindh Muslim Science College, where she taught till 1985. During this time she also became a part of the Pakistan College Teachers' Association and progressed from being a unit representative to the vice-president, and finally the association's president.
She emerged as an icon of teachers' trade unionism when she led the controversial movement for the nationalisation of around 78 private colleges in the metropolis in the late 1960s. However, she used to justify the association's stance. "There was no official body to regulate the private colleges while the teachers were ill-treated and disrespected by the management," she had said in an informal discussion with The Express Tribune.
During the pre-1970 Pakistan Peoples Party election campaigns, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto held a hunger strike. In that camp, he announced that he will nationalise all colleges if elected. In one of the memorable pictures taken in the camp, she can be seen standing next to Bhutto.
During that movement for nationalisation, she even spent time in jail, and participated in the teachers' processions that were baton-charged. On September 1, 1972, all private educational institutions through a government notification were nationalised and hundreds of teachers at the private schools and colleges, including Anita, became government servants overnight.
Later in 1985, she was appointed as the managing director of the Sindh Teachers' Foundation, a semi-autonomous organisation to undertake educational initiatives in the disadvantaged areas of the province. Under this organisation, the Sindh Education Foundation (SEF) emerged in 1992 and she became its first managing director - a position she retained till 2013.
Giving consideration to her services for education, she was appointed as the education minister in 1996 in the caretaker government.
Thereafter, in November 1999, when she was inducted into the Sindh cabinet as the education minister for the second time, the late Ardeshir Cowasjee, one of country's well-known columnists, lauded the decision of the 'generals' in his Dawn column. He said that she knew well the value of education and was of the firm conviction that education and education alone can thwart and repulse the present invasive, insidious, and rife bigotry with which this country was stricken.
In 2009, the SEF launched its largest initiative, the Integrated Education Learning Programme, encouraging entrepreneurs to open 1,300 schools in the slums of the province under a public-private partnership. The initiative was, however, badly hampered by the paucity of funds as the foundation was dependent on government grants to continue its operations.
"One day, Humaira Apa, a close friend who shared an apartment with her, complained that we should make arrangements for Anita Apa to sleep at the SEF offices," recalled Aziz Kabani, the SEF operations director, while talking to The Express Tribune. "She said that because Anita Apa used to negotiate with the government officials for the release of funds even during her sleep."
Anita once described herself a "tomboy to the heart". Since her childhood years, she used to compete with her male friends and even saddled and rode the donkeys with them. She believed that such challenges actually prepared her for the journey she undertook, exhibiting her leadership instinct in varying colours for the others to follow. When the Newsline interviewed her in March 2005, she said: "In another life, I want to be a man, because I want to sock everybody."
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th,2014.