Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain

1880-1932


Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain was a pioneering educationist who secured the right to education for Muslim girls in Bengal. She was a prolific writer of essays and stories; her feminist science-fiction novel Sultana’s Dream has inspired many women to defend their rights and pursue their ambitions. Born into a wealthy zamindar family, Rokeya was well provided for but she was not content. Her biggest grievance was that she felt unjustly deprived of basic human rights, as she did not agree to the confines placed on her as a girl. She challenged the practice of purdah, which was prominent amongst Muslim women at the time, finding no proof in religious scriptures that girls were to be hidden and confined to the home. She debated fiercely and gained the support of some of the men in her family, including her husband who was a life-long friend and ally. Eventually, she became the center of what came to be a reform movement within the Muslim community of Bengal; Rokeya and her compatriots believed that women should have access to the same opportunities as men.

Against much opposition, Rokeya worked tirelessly to undo the stringent mores that restricted women within the private sphere of family and home. However, her most gratifying and commendable achievement was the establishment of the Sakhawat Memorial School at Kolkata in 1909, which is still up and running even to this day. Rokeya never had the opportunity to go to school yet she gave multitude of girls the chance to learn and pursue their dreams, paving the way for future female activists as well. Presently, December 9th is officially celebrated as Rokeya Day all throughout Bangladesh, commemorating both her birth and death anniversaries. Consequently, to cherish her legacy, the Government of Bangladesh founded the Begum Rokeya University in Rangpur as well as named a national award after her, Rokeya Padak, to honor outstanding contributions made to empower women. It is because of her undying, relentless pursuit of enabling girls to secure the same rights as boys, that she is so highly regarded even to this day by men and women, young and old alike.