Heritage Times

Exploring lesser known History



India has always remained a progressive nation. Right from the very beginning, both males and females have achieved great heights in many fields. Today many of such names have remained buried and it’s time to dig out those long-lost names and bring them to you.

If you try searching the names of Indian female pilots, you will come across a recent few names such as Saarah Hameed Ahmed, Iram Habib, Sayeda Fatima, etc.

But the truth is that India has witnessed three Indian Muslim female pilots as early as the twentieth century – Abida Sultan, Begum Hijab Imtiyaz Ali, and Zeenat Haroon Rasheed.


Abida Sultan, the first female Indian Muslim pilot was the eldest daughter of the Last Nawab of the princely state of Bhopal, Haji Nawab Hafiz also known as Hamidullah Khan. Abida was born in August 1913 and died at the age of 88 in May 2002 at the age of eighty-eight.

Right from her childhood, she was extremely fond of flying planes & her dream turned into a reality after she successfully got her license to fly a plane in the late 1920s, making her the first female Indian pilot. Abida took training to fly planes from Bombay Flying Club and Calcutta Flying Club. Sultan had hobbies that were unusual among the women of her era. She loves driving cars and hunting during her free time.


Abida Sultan had two younger sisters, Sajida Sultan and Rabia Sultan. Being the eldest, Abida was expected to take her father’s throne. Sultan got married to the ruler of Kurwai state, Nawab Mohammad Sarvar Ali Khan, and later migrated to the newly formed Pakistan in 1950.

Since Abida gave up her throne, her middle sister, Sajida Sultat became the heiress after their father, Hamidullah Khan’s death in 1960. Abida, in Pakistan, joined the foreign services. Her son Shaharyar Khan became the Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and later the Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board.

On the other hand, Sajida Sultan, in India, got married to a cricketer, Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi, and got a son Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi.

So now we know that Abida Sultan, the first Indian female Muslim pilot, was Saif Ali Khan’s very own grandmother’s sister!


Another very interesting name is heard when talking about the first Indian Muslim female pilot, Begum Hijab Imtiyaz Ali. It is said that she was the first Indian female pilot of the British Empire.

She belonged to an extremely progressive family that allowed her to pursue her dream even after getting married and having a daughter.


Hijab was an excellent writer. She wrote multiple stories and also remained an editor of a magazine, Tehzeeb-e-Niswaan. Begum Hijab belonged to an aristocratic family of Hyderabad and got married to Imtiyaz Ali Taj, a renowned Urdu writer of his time.


Zeenat Haroon Rasheed, daughter of Sir Abdullah Haroon, a well-known politician of British India who made a major contribution towards developing and defining the role of Muslims in economics, was born in the year 1928 and passed away in 2017.


She was one of the first pilots of British India and one of the forty-nine women to have organized an association of the Australian Women Pilots during the early 1951.

One of the greatest tragedies that have ever happened after the separation of India and Pakistan is that these names have long been lost somewhere in the past and today the world no longer knows them. Therefore it’s our duty to bring out, un-dust, and make these exemplary women known for what they truly were.

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Dr. Zareen Fatima

Dr Zareen is an ambitious general dentist working and residing in UAE. She is able to handle multiple tasks on a daily basis. Alongside her busy work schedule, she is a vivid reader, researcher, writer editor and is currently pursuing Masters in Public Health. In her leisure she brings out the forgotten history in the field of medicine and associated disciplines.