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Thursday, January 18, 2018

The pioneer of women's emancipation

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Muslim society was submerged in various superstitions when Begum Rokeya was born. Specially Muslim women were deprived of the light of education. The unapologetic feminist played an extraordinary role to free women from the curse of religious fanaticism, conservatism, humilition and illiteracy.

Begum Rokeya's words are very relevant to the current status as women today. Even though Rokeya's dreams regarding women's education have been somewhat realized, her vision regarding women's equality has not yet been established.

Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain is a reputed Bengali writer and social reformer of the nineteenth century. She is considered as the pioneer of revolution of Bengali women.  She was born on December 9, 1880 in Rangpur district. His father Zahiruddin Mohammad Abu Ali Haider Saber was a landlord.

According to the Muslim society, Rokeya and her sisters were not sent to study outside and they were taught Arabic and Urdu at home. The identity of Bengali letters was forbidden. Though she was not allowed to go to school, her elder brother Ibrahim Sabe was a modern psychologist and he taught Rokeya and her sister Karimunnesa secretly Bengali and English at home.

In 1896, Rokeya got married at the age of 16 with the deputy magistrate of Bhagalpur, Syed Sakhawat Hossain. Her husband was free-minded; he encouraged Rokeya to start writing. With the help of her husband, she became proficient in English and Urdu. Rokeya's husband used to always talk about women's education.

Sakhawat Hossain died in 1909. Five months later, Rokeya Sakhawat established a girls' school in Memorial Girls School in Bhagalpur. In 1910, she came to Calcutta after closing the school due to trouble with property. On March 15, 1911, she started a school named the Sakhawat Memorial Girls School, with only eight girls.

Over the four years the number grew to 84 and in 1930 it became a high school. The curriculum included physical education, handicrafts, sewing, cooking, nursing, home economics, and gardening, in addition to regular courses in Bangla, English, Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. Rokeya emphasized on physical education because she believed that it was important to make women physically stronger, fit and confident. Rokeya also recognized the importance of women's economic independence. Her curriculum therefore, included vocational training in crafts and sewing.

In 1916, she founded the Muslim Bengali women's organization, Anjuman Khwatinay Islam, to establish the welfare of women widows, education of poor helpless girls, training of women in cottage industries, and education of illiterate women, for the protection of women in slum dwellers.

Seeing the deterioration of women in the then Bengali Muslim society, she realized that the main reason behind this backwardness was to stay away from education. So she had employed his all-powerful ability to eliminate the misery of Muslim women.  She wrote, 'when the husband measures the distance between the sun and the stars from the earth, the wife measures the length of the pillow to be sealed.' 

When the husband wanders in the solar system, with the help of imagination, weighs the circumference of the sun's circle and determines the speed of the comet, the wife wanders in the kitchen, weighs the rice and determines the speed of the cook. Without quality education, women cannot be established as qualified people.

 As the wives use their ornaments to increase their beauty, Begum Rokeya calls them 'a sign of slavery'. She compared the prisoner's clothes to women's ornaments. She even thought of women's mental weakness to make prosperity through ornaments. Begum Rokeya argued for the necessity of women's education and gender equality through articles, stories and novels.

Through her writings, she tried to create social awareness, tried to prevent injustice against women in the name of religion. In order to awaken the conscience of the society to establish the rights of women, she used to struggle through her writings. She launched her literary career in 1902 with a Bengali essay entitled Pipasa (Thirst). Her most notable composition is Sultana's Dream. It is considered a milestone in the world's feminist literature. It is a science-fiction piece depicting a feminist utopia.  Apart from this, her notable books are 'Padmarg', 'Aborodhbasini' and 'Motichur'. 'Burka' is her another notable essay.

Alongside school management and literary studies, Rokeya kept herself busy in organizational and social activities till the very last day of her life. Begum Rokeya realized that development of girl child is a first step for the development of women. She believed that only women can make a silent social revolution through education. One of the main objectives of the Bengali Muslim society, particularly the women society, was to make them aware about their own position. She wanted to create motivation for freedom and self-determination in the women's society. She portrayed the path of liberation of Bengali women in her literary work.

She understood that, to build a progressive society, the equality of men and women is undeniable. He wrote, 'Two eyes are in the body, the importance of two eyes is equal to the needs of all human activities.' The liberation of women society was the main target of Begum Rokeya.

She believed that education could help women to come out of traditional prejudice. At that time, men did not take any step towards the education of women; likewise, women did not come forward in the way of education.  Women's  independence is not possible in a society where females are economically dependent on men. According to Rokeya, the real liberation or progress of women is possible on the path of self-reliance. Begum Rokeya offered Bangali Muslim women books instead of kitchen utensils.

In the 'Ardhangi' article, Begum Rokeya emphasized the release of her mental slavery to improve the real condition of women. In a society where women do not have the power to exercise their will, whether there is a curtain or not - women are actually in control of men.

Through her writings, story and novel she argued for the necessity of women education and gender equality. She used humor irony and satire to focus attention on the injustices faced by Bengali Muslim women. Through her writings, she tried to create social awareness, tried to prevent injustice against women in the name of religion.

Every year December 9th is observed as 'Rokeya Day' in Bangladesh. Search engine giant Google had created a new Doodle on its homepage to celebrate Begum Rokeya Day, marking the 137th birth and 85th death anniversary of the founding pillar of Bengali Muslim feminism. The writer is a journalist of The Asian Age.

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