A writer and educationalist with an interest in social reform who helped paved the way for women to play a greater part in Society. Roquiah Khatun, commonly known as Begum Rokeya, full name Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain was a writer, educationist and social reformer.
At a time when Muslim women were to expected to come out of purdah, she pioneered education among-st the Muslim women of Bengal.
A conservative upbringing
Rokeya was born in 1880 at Pairaband in Rangpur district. She was brought up in a conservative Muslim family which, keeping in conformity to the purdah system, did not consider girls fit for an English education.
Rokeya, therefore, remained confined at home along with her sister to study subjects of religious interest such as Arabic. Rokeya’s brothers, particularly her eldest brother, Ibrahim Saber, taught her English and Bangla. They also inspired her to write.
The only chance Rokeya ever got of studying was with an English lady in Kolkata. But she had to stop her lessons because of family and social disapproval.
In, 1897, Rokeya married Syed Sakhawat Hossain, a highly educated gentleman and a government officer, Syed sakhawat, like his brothers, encouraged Rokeya to study English and Bangla and inspired her to read literary works from home and abroad.
He also inspired her to write. She started writing in 1902 and continued to do so as long as she lived.
Rokeya used various forms of literature to express herself. She wrote short stories, poems, essays, novels and satirical writings. Her writings were full of humour and logic. she started writing in different leading literary magazines.
She wrote her first story, Sultana’s Dream, in 1905 and it was published as a book in 1908. She later translated it into Bangla. Abarodhbasini (The Secluded Women, 1931) is a spirited attack on the extreme forms of purdah that she felt endangered women’s lives.
Her other noted works include Matichur (essays 1st vol 1904, 2nd Vol, 1922), Padmarag (novel, 1924), Delicia Hatya (translation of the Murder of Delicia, by Mary Corelli) Jnan-phal (The Fruit of Knowledge), Nari-Sristi (Creation of Women), Nurse Nelly, Mu kti-phal (The Fruit of Emancipation) etc. Rokeya also wrote fine poetry.
Her poem entitled Saogat was published in 1918 of the first page of the first issue of the saogat, a literary magazine in Kolkata.
Rokeya wrote on a wide range of subjects: social prejudice, adverse effects of the purdah system, women’s education, social repression on women, women’s rights and her progressive views of women’s awakening. She also wrote againt the tradition of childhood marriage and polygamy.
Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain as an educationist
While Rokeya used her power of writing in encouraging her fellow women towards education and a productive life, she at the same time put her ideas into practice as an educationist. Her commitment to women’s education led her to establish a girl’s school in Bhagalpur and afterwards in Kolkata.
Which was named after her husband. At first she found it difficult to get Bengali girls as students because of the conservative mood in the society. However, she was so committed to her purpose that she went from house to persuade people about the importance of education.
He also tried to convince them that purdah and education could go hand in hand. She was eventually successful in getting so many students in her school that she had to move to a different location with larger accommodation.
As an activist
Begum Rokeya was not only a creative writer and educationist, but also an activist. In 1916, Begum Rokeya funded an organization called anjuman-e-Khawatin-e-Islam (Muslim women’s society) to make women aware of their rights.
The society was at the forefront of the fight for women’s education, employment and their legal and political rights. The society defrayed the cost of education for a large number of girls and arranged marriages for many poor girls.
It gave shelter to orphans and the destitute and extended financial help to widows. It also established some businesses for women to earn economic independence.
Begum Rokeya died in 1932 on 9 December, the same day she was born, She is still fondly remembered not only for her creative ideas and writings for the improvement of her society but also for the way she put her thought into practice.
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