Begum Rokeya

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Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain
Begum Rokeya.jpg
Rokeya Khatun

(1880-12-09)9 December 1880
Died9 December 1932(1932-12-09) (aged 52)
Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Resting placeKolkata, West Bengal, India
Other names
  • Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain
  • R. S. Hossain
  • Rokeya Khatoon
Occupation(s)Woman empower, Writer, Feminist Thinker, Educator, Activist
Khan Bahadur Sakhawat Hossain
(m. 1898; died 1909)
RelativesJahiruddin Muhammad Abu Ali Haider Saber (Father)
Muhammad Ibrahim Abul Asad Saber (eldest brother)
Karimunnesa Khanam Chaudhurani (sister)
Abdul Karim Ghaznavi (nephew)
Abdul Halim Ghaznavi (nephew)

Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain[a] (Bengali: রোকেয়া সাখাওয়াত হোসেন; 9 December 1880[b] – 9 December 1932), commonly known as Begum Rokeya,[c] was a prominent Bengali feminist thinker, writer, educator, professor, teacher, writer and women empowerment and political activist for Muslim girls from East Bengal, undivided Bengal in present-day Bangladesh.

She is widely regarded as a pioneer of women's liberation in South Asia. Rokeya is considered as the pioneer feminist of Bengal .

She advocated for men and women to be treated equally as rational beings, noting that the lack of education for women was responsible for their inferior economic position.[3] Her major works include Matichur (A String of Sweet Pearls, 1904 and 1922), a collection of essays in two volumes expressing her feminist thoughts; Sultana's Dream (1908), a feminist science fiction novella set in Ladyland ruled by women; Padmarag ("Essence of the Lotus", 1924) depicting the difficulties faced by Bengali wives;[5] and Abarodhbasini (The Confined Women, 1931), a spirited attack on the extreme forms of purdah that endangered women's lives and self-image.[2]

Rokeya held education to be the central precondition of women's liberation, establishing the first school aimed primarily at Muslim girls in Kolkata. She is said to have gone from house to house persuading the parents to send their girls to her school in Nisha. Until her death, she ran the school despite facing hostile criticism and social obstacles.[2][6]

In 1916, she founded the Muslim Women's Association, an organization that fought for women's education and employment.[2][7] In 1926, Rokeya presided over the Bengal Women's Education Conference convened in Kolkata, the first significant attempt to bring women together in support of women's education rights.[7] She was engaged in debates and conferences regarding the advancement of women until her death on 9 December 1932, shortly after presiding over a session during the Indian Women's Conference.[7]

Bangladesh observes Rokeya Day on 9 December every year to commemorate her works and legacy.[8] On that day, Bangladesh government also confers Begum Rokeya Padak on individual women for their exceptional achievement.[9] In 2004, Rokeya was ranked number 6 in BBC's poll of the Greatest Bengali of all time.[10][11]

Background and family[edit]

The remains of Rokeya's childhood house in Pairaband, Rangpur, pictured in 2012.

Rokeya was born in 1880, to a Bengali Muslim family in the village of Pairaband, Rangpur, Bengal Presidency, (erstwhile undivided Bengal) .[2] Her ancestors served in the military and judiciary during the Mughal regime.[2] Her father, Zahiruddin Muhammad Abu Ali Haidar Saber, was a zamindar and a multi-lingual intellectual.[2] He married four times; his marriage to Rahatunnessa Sabera Chaudhurani resulted in the birth of Rokeya, who had two sisters and three brothers, one of whom died in childhood. Rokeya's eldest brother Ibrahim Saber, and her immediate elder sister Karimunnesa Khanam Chaudhurani, both had a major influence on her life. Karimunnesa wanted to study Bengali, the language of the majority in Bengali people, against her family's wish who preferred to use Arabic and Persian as the media of education and communication. Ibrahim taught English and Bengali to Rokeya and Karimunnesa.[12] Karimunnesa married at the age of fourteen and later became a poet. Both of her sons, Abdul Karim Ghaznavi and Abdul Halim Ghaznavi, became politicians and occupied ministerial portfolios under British authorities.[citation needed]


Rokeya with her husband, Sakhawat Hossain (1898)

Rokeya married at the age of 18, in 1898 to 38-year-old Khan Bahadur Sakhawat Hossain. He was an Urdu-speaking deputy magistrate of Bhagalpur (a present-day district of Bihar state). He earned his bachelor of agriculture degree from England and was a member of Royal Agricultural Society of England. He married Rokeya after the death of his first wife. As a liberal, he encouraged Rokeya to continue learning Bengali and English. He also encouraged her to write, and on his advice, she adopted Bengali as the principal language for her literary works.[citation needed]

Literary career[edit]

The book cover for Abarodhbasini (1931).

Rokeya launched her literary career in 1902 with a Bengali essay entitled Pipasa (Thirst). She later published the books Matichur (1905) and Sultana's Dream (1908) before her husband died in 1909. In Sultana's Dream, Rokeya wrote reversing the roles of men and women in which women were the dominant sex and the men were subordinate and confined to the mandana (the male equivalent of the zenana). She also depicts an alternative, feminist vision of science, in which inventions such as solar ovens, flying cars, and cloud condensers are used to benefit the whole of society.[13][14] It is regarded as a notable and influential satire. She wrote regularly for the Saogat, Mahammadi, Nabaprabha, Mahila, Bharatmahila, Al-Eslam, Nawroz, Mahe Nao, Bangiya Musalman Sahitya Patrika, The Mussalman, Indian Ladies Magazine and others.[2]

Five months after Rokeya's husband's death, she established a high school, naming it Sakhawat Memorial Girls' High School.[15] It started in Bhagalpur, a traditionally Urdu-speaking area, with five students. A dispute with her husband's family over property forced her to move the school in 1911 to Calcutta, a Bengali-speaking area.[15] She ran the school for 24 years.[2]

Rokeya founded the Anjuman-e-Khawateen-e-Islam (Islamic Women's Association), which was active in holding debates and conferences regarding the status of women and education. She advocated reform, particularly for women, and believed that parochialism and excessive conservatism were principally responsible for the relatively slow development of Muslims in British India. Anjuman-e-Khawateen-e-Islam organised events for social reforms based on the original teachings of Islam that, according to her, were lost.[citation needed]

Literary style[edit]

Rokeya wrote in a number of genres: short stories, poems, essays, novels and satirical writings. She developed a distinctive literary style, characterised by creativity, logic and a wry sense of humour. She started writing in the Nabanoor from about 1903, under the name of Mrs R S Hossain. However, there is an opinion that her first published writing Pipasa appeared in the Nabaprabha in 1902. Her writings called upon women to protest against injustices and break the social barriers that discriminated against them.[16]

Novels written by Begum Rokeya[edit]

Whenever any woman tries to raise her head, weapons in the form of religions or holy scriptures strike her head. … Men propagate those scriptures as God's commandments to subdue us in darkness. … Those scriptures are nothing but systems constructed by men. The words we listen from male saints would be different if they were spoken by female saints. … Religions only tighten the yoke of servitude around women and justify male domination over women.

Rokeya in 1904[17]

  • Pipasha ("Thirst") (1902)
  • Matichur 1st Vol. (Essays) (1904)
  • Matichur 2nd Vol. (Essays) (1922)

The second volume includes stories and fairy tales:

  • Saurajagat (The Solar System),
    • Delicia Hatya (translation of the Murder of Delicia - Marie Corelli)
    • Jnan-phal (The Fruit of Knowledge)
    • Nari-Srishti (Creation of Women)
    • Nurse Nelly
    • Mukti-phal (The Fruit of Emancipation)
  • Sultana's Dream (1905)
  • Padmarag ("Essence of the Lotus") (novel) (1924)
  • Abarodhbasini ("The Secluded Women") (1931)
  • Boligarto (short story)
  • Narir Adhikar ("The Rights of Women"), an unfinished essay for the Islamic Women's Association
  • God Gives, Man Robs (1927)
  • Education Ideals for the Modern Indian Girl (1931)

Death and legacy[edit]

Tomb of Rokeya in the campus of Panihati Girls' High School, Sodepur.

Rokeya died of heart problems on 10 December 1932, on her 52nd birthday.

9 December is celebrated as the Rokeya Day in Bangladesh. On 9 December 2017, Google celebrated her 137th birthday, honoring her with a Google Doodle.[18]

Rokeya's grave in Sodepur was rediscovered due to the efforts of the historian Amalendu De. It is located inside the campus of Panihati Girls' High School, Panihati, Sodepur.[19]

Statue of Rokeya on the premises of Rokeya Hall, University of Dhaka

Rokeya is considered as the pioneer feminist of Bengal.[9][20][21] Universities, public buildings and a National Award has been named after her in Bangladesh.[22][23] She was an inspiration for many later generation female authors including Sufia Kamal, Tahmima Anam, and others.[24][25]



  1. ^ Though "Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain" (a romanized form of her married name in Bengali: রোকেয়া সাখাওয়াত হোসেন") is the commonly used spelling of Rokeya's full married name, Rokeya herself is never seen to use her full married name in this English spelling. In much of her correspondence in English, she used just her initials: ‘R. S. Hossein' (also used on the cover of the 1st edition of Sultana's Dream). In some other correspondences in English, she used "Rokeya Khatun," or "Khatoon". In most of her correspondence in Bengali, she used just her first name "রোকেয়া" (would be "Rokeya" if romanized).[1][2]
  2. ^ Though Rokeya's birthday is celebrated along with her death anniversary on 9 December, her birthday is more conjecture than a fact as it was not documented.[3][4]
  3. ^ The honorific "Begum" is not a part of Hossain's name; it is added as a feminine title of respect, primarily in the Indian subcontinent.[1]


  1. ^ a b "A Feminist Foremother: Critical Essays on Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain". The Daily Star. 16 September 2017. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Akhter, Shahida (2012). "Hossain, Roquiah Sakhawat". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh."Roquia Sakhawat Hussain (Begum Rokeya)". Londoni.
  3. ^ a b Azad, Humayun. "Purushtantra o Rokeyar Naribad" পুরুষতন্ত্র ও রোকেয়ার নারীবাদ [Patriarchy and Rokeya's Feminism]. Naree নারী [The Woman] (in Bengali). Dhaka: Agamee Prokashon. pp. 282–299.
  4. ^ Begum, Maleka (2018). Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain রোকেয়া সাখাওয়াত হোসেন (in Bengali). Dhaka: Prothoma. p. 11.
  5. ^ Sarkar, Siuli (2016). Gender Disparity in India: Unheard Whimpers. PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd. p. 73. ISBN 978-8120352513. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  6. ^ "The enduring legacy of Begum Rokeya". The Independent. 9 December 2016. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  7. ^ a b c "Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain". Sewall-Belmont House Museum. Sewall-Belmont House & Museum. Archived from the original on 24 June 2016. Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  8. ^ "Begum Rokeya Day today". The Daily Star. Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  9. ^ a b "Begum Rokeya Day on 9 December". Dhaka Tribune. Archived from the original on 7 January 2016. Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  10. ^ "BBC Listeners' Poll". The Daily Star. 16 April 2004. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  11. ^ "Mujib, Tagore, Bose among 'greatest Bengalis of all time'". The Hindu. 17 April 2004. Archived from the original on 25 December 2018. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  12. ^ Anwar S. Dil, Afia Dil (2014). Women's Changing Position in Bangladesh: Tribute to Begum Rokeya. pp. 10–16. ISBN 978-9842003738.
  13. ^ Lewton, Thomas (2019). "Feminist Visions of Science and Utopia in Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain's 'Sultana's Dream'". Lady Science. Retrieved 23 August 2019.
  14. ^ Hossain, Rokeya Sakhawat (1905). Sultana's Dream. Madras: The Indian Ladies' Magazine.
  15. ^ a b Barnita Bagchi (1 October 2003). "Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain". Retrieved 16 May 2010.
  16. ^ "Rokeya's wake-up call to women". 9 December 2016. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  17. ^ Begum, Maleka (2010). Banglar Nari Andolaner বাংলার নারী আন্দোলন [Women's Movement in Bengal] (in Bengali). Dhaka: The University Press Limited. p. 71. ISBN 978-984-8815-70-0.
  18. ^ "Begum Rokeya's 137th Birthday". Google. 9 December 2017.
  19. ^ Banerjee, Pranotosh (27 May 2014). "Remembering Historian Amalendu De". Janoswartho Barta. Chatterjee, Garga (trans.). Retrieved 13 January 2016.
  20. ^ "Rokeya's unrealised Dream". The Daily Star. Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  21. ^ Rubaiyat, Hossain. "Begum Rokeya : The Pioneer Feminist of Bangladesh". The Daily Star. Retrieved 25 June 2016.
  22. ^ Arif Billah (23 December 2016). "Remembering Begum Rokeya". The Daily Star. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  23. ^ "Begum Rokeya University begins academic activities". The Financial Express. Dhaka. Archived from the original on 1 October 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2012.
  24. ^ "Poet Sufia Kamal's 18th death anniversary Monday". Prothom Alo. 20 November 2017. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  25. ^ Tahmima Anam (28 May 2011). "My hero Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain". The Guardian. Retrieved 31 July 2017.
  26. ^ "Begum Rokeya Day today". The Daily Star. 9 December 2010.
  27. ^ "Begum Rokeya Memorial Center, Rangpur". Rangpur Chamber Of Commerce & Industry. Retrieved 21 April 2019.
  28. ^ Alam, Shahidul (10 December 2010). "Begum Rokeya is probably turning in her grave." Shahidul News. Retrieved 21 April 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  29. ^ "Begum Rokeya University..." The Daily Star. 6 January 2013. Retrieved 21 April 2019.

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