Begum Rokeya: India’s first Bengali Muslim feminist


Team Udayavani, Aug 30, 2020, 2:10 PM IST

Rokeya Sakhwat Hossain or Begum Rokeya was a 19th Century feminist writer, educationalist and social reformer

Born in 1880 to a wealthy Zamindar family in Pairabondh (present Bangladesh), Rokeya Begum became India’s first Bengali Islamist-feminist.

It is said that Rokeya’s father, an orthodox Muslim, persisted that the women maintained purdah and allowed them to be educated in only in Arabic to enable them to read the Quran. Rokeya and her sister Karimunnesa with the help of their brothers, learned Bengali and English

Rokeya married a divorced man who was the Deputy Magistrate of Baghalpur, Sakhwat Hussain.  Hussain was a liberal person, who encouraged his wife to start her literary career and launched books like Motichur and Sultana’s Dream.

She wrote many short stories, novels, poems, satire and essays, calling for women to be treated equally as men.

Later, her husband passed away and she lost two daughters in their infancy. In 1911, Rokeya started off her school, Sakhawat Memorial Girls’ School in the memory of her late husband. When the foundation was laid in Kolkata, there were only 8 students. However, the strength increased to 84 by 1915, and it became a high school in 1930.

In 1916, she founded the Anjuman-e-Khawateen-e-Islam (Islamic Women’s Association), which was her other organisational contribution to Bengali Muslim women. Begum Rokeya died on December 9, 1932, while working on an article titled Narir Odhikar

Begum Rokeya was not just subjected to scathing criticisms for her views but also faced unforgiving social exclusion. Braving harsh comments and allegations from conservatives, Roquiah inspired women to join the society.zv

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