Begum Rokeya The Unstoppable -By: Kazi Falguni Eshita
There was a time when women were deprived of one of their basic rights: education. Ladies could not study in Bengali. They’d have to choose either Persian or Arabic as their medium of instruction back then.
Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain was one of the pioneers of female education, who took a step forward to improve women’s lives. Born to an educated Zaminder, Zahiruddin Mohammad Abu Ali Sabr and Rahatunnessa in Rangpur, Bangladesh, Rokeya Khatun’s life was greatly influenced by her elder brother Ibrahim Sabr and elder sister Karimunnessa. Karimunnessa became a good poet after marriage. Rokeya’s siblings inspired her to learn Bangla and English.
Rokeya Khatun got married at the age of 18 to Khan Bahadur Sakhawat Hossian, who was 38 at that time. Gentle, broad-minded Sakhawat was also enthusiastic about female education. Rokeya not only continued her studies; but she began writing in Bangla as well. Two of her books: Motichur (1905) and Sultana’s Dream (1908) were published when Sakhawat was alive.
Sultana’s Dream was an exceptional book where males were shown as the recessive gender dominated by females. This piece of literature is still widely applauded.
In 1909, Sakhawat Hossain passed away. Five months later after his death, Rokeya established a high school (mainly for Muslim women). The institution was called Sakhawat Memorial Girl’s School. It started in Bhagalpur, an Urdu- speaking area, with only five students. She had to move the school to Kolkata in 1911, due to some family disputes. It is still a very popular institution, now run under the government of West Bengal.
Rokeya never paid heed to social obstacles and criticisms she came across, during her battles for female education. She breathed her last on 9th December 1932, on her 52nd birthday. Both Bangladesh and West Bengal will always remember her as the one who showed women the true value of freedom, through education.