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Begum Rokeya
Roquia Sakhawat Hussain, Bangla: (বেগম রোকেয়া), (1880 – December 9, 1932) was a prolific writer and a social worker in undivided Bengalmarker in the early 20th century. She is most famous for her efforts on behalf of gender equality and other social issues. She established the first school aimed primarily at Muslim girls, which still exists today. She was a notable Muslim feminist; modern feminist writers such as Taslima Nasrin cite her as an influence.

Names

She was born Roquia Khatun but achieved prominence as Begum Roquia Sakhawat Hussain. Begum is an honorific, that is, a title of respect in addressing a woman. When she wrote in English, she transliterated her name as Rokeya.

Life

Birth Place of Begum Roquia in Pairabondh, Rangpur
Roquia Khatun was born in 1880 in the village of Pairabondh, Rangpurmarker, in what was then the British Indian Empire and is now Bangladeshmarker. Her father, Jahiruddin Muhammad Abu Ali Haidar Saber, was a highly educated zamindar (landlord). Roquia had two sisters, Karimunnesa Khatun and Humayra Khatun; and three brothers, one of whom died in childhood. Roquia's eldest brother Ibrahim, and her immediate elder sister Karimunnesa, both had great influence on her life. Karimunnesa wanted to study Bangla, the language of the majority in Bengal. The family disliked this because many upper class Muslims of the time preferred to use Arabic and Persian as the media of education, instead of their native language, Bangla. Ibrahim taught English and Bangla to Roquia and Karimunnesa; both sisters became authors.

Karimunnesa married at the age of fourteen, later earning a reputation as a poet. Both of her sons, Nawab Abdul Karim Gaznawi and Nawab Abdul Halim Gaznawi, became famous in the political arena and occupied ministerial portfolios under British authorities.

Roquia married at the age of sixteen in 1896. Her Urdu-speaking husband, Khan Bahadur Sakhawat Hussain, was the Deputy Magistrate of Bhagalpurmarker, which is now a district under the Indianmarker state of Biharmarker. He continued her brother's work by encouraging her to keep learning Bangla and English. He also suggested that she write, and on his advice she adopted Bangla as the principal language for her literary works because it was the language of the masses. She launched her literary career in 1902 with a Bangla story entitled Pipasa (Thirst).

In 1909, Sakhawat Hussain died. He had encouraged his wife to set aside money to start a school primarily for Muslim women. Five months after his death, Roquia established a high school in her beloved husband's memory, naming it Sakhawat Memorial Girls' High School. It started in Bhagalpur, a traditionally Urdu-speaking area, with only five students. A dispute with her husband's family over property forced Roquia to move the school in 1911 to Calcutta (now known as Kolkatamarker), a Bengali-speaking area. It remains one of the city's most popular schools for girls and is now run by the state government of West Bengal.

Begum Roquia also founded the Anjuman e Khawateen e Islam (Islamic Women's Association), which was active in holding debates and conferences regarding the status of women and education. She advocated reform, particularly for women, and believed that parochialism and excessive conservatism were principally responsible for the relatively slow development of Muslims in British India. As such, she is one of the first Islamic feminists. She was inspired by the traditional Islamic learning as enunciated in the Qu'ran, and believed that modern Islam had been distorted or corrupted; her organization Anjuman e Khawateen e Islam organised many events for social reforms based on the original teachings of Islam that, according to her, were lost.

Begum Roquia remained busy with the school, the association, and her writings for the rest of her life. She died of heart problems on December 9, 1932. In Bangladesh, December 9 is celebrated as Rokeya Day.

Gender Equality

Statue of Begum Roquia in Begum Rokeya Memorial Centre, Pairabondh, Rangpur


Begum Roquia was an inspiring figure who contributed much to the struggle to liberate women from the bondage of social malaises. To raise popular consciousness, especially among women, she wrote a number of articles, stories and novels, mostly in Bengali.

Begum Roquia used humor, irony, and satire to focus attention on the injustices faced by Bengali-speaking Muslim women. She criticized oppressive social customs forced upon women that were based upon a corrupted version of Islam, asserting that women fulfilling their potential as human beings could best display the glory of Allah.

Begum Roquia wrote courageously against restrictions on women in order to promote their emancipation, which, she believed, would come about by breaking the gender division of labor. She rejected discrimination for women in the public arena and believed that discrimination would cease only when women were able to undertake whatever profession they chose.

Works



References

  1. http://www.countercurrents.org/gender-bagchi011003.htm
  2. http://www.countercurrents.org/gender-bagchi011003.htm



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