Rukhsana Sultana: Sanjay Gandhi’s ‘buddy’ who added glamour quotient to the Emergency

Rukhsana Sultana, socialite and activist, was Sanjay Gandhi’s one of the close associates during the Emergency in India. She was also known as Rukshana Singh or Begum Rukhsana Sahiba. Her political journey began after the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi announced ‘Emergency’. During Emergency, she was said to be present in Old Delhi’s Muslim areas for Sanjay Gandhi’s male sterilization campaign.

‘Emergency’ was the turning point in Sanjay’s political career. And he considered ‘family planning’ the most critical issue of the country and he believed that if he is able to solve the issue he will be placed as a prominent leader not only in India but in the whole world. This is when ‘Sultana’ came into the spotlight. She was among the four people who were given important responsibilities during the period. She took the responsibility to make the sterilization campaign successful in Old Delhi’s Muslim quarters in and around Jama Masjid. She started making people aware of the advantages of family planning. She is said to induce over 13,000 vasectomies in less than a year. The campaign didn’t go well for a long time and soon people ferociously clashed with the police and a curfew was imposed. Scores of residents were killed.

How they met

A report published in India Today (1977) describes how Rukhsana Sultana and Sanjay Gandhi met for the first time. She had a boutique in Connaught Circus where she dealt in diamond jewellery on a commission basis. Highly impressed by Sanjay’s leadership qualities she took an appointment to meet him. She expressed her desire to help him in his ‘cause’. And hence she was asked to visit Jama Masjid area to find out the grievances of the people.

According to a report in ‘ThePrint’, Rukhsana was disliked by Sanjay’s wife Maneka and his mother Indira Gandhi. The article describes her as someone who used to wear silk saree, don oversized ‘go-go’ shades and carry a handkerchief soaked in cologne over her nose. In June 1976, she was handed over the responsibility of supervising the demolition of shops in Turkaman Gate area. The demolition resulted in protests and police were asked to impose lathi charge, tear gas, and bullets. Several people were killed.

Personal Life

Sultana was the niece of actress Begum Para. She married to a Sikh general in the Indian Army Shivinder Singh Virk. She met Shivinder during her college years, fell in love and despite the religious difference got married in the year 1934. The couple gave birth to a baby girl, who was brought up by Sultana. The opposing personalities and lifestyles were the result of them falling apart. Their daughter was well versed with both Hindu and Muslim cultures. This little girl is popular Bollywood actress Amrita Singh.

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