Jahanara Imam

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Jahanara Imam
জাহানারা ইমাম
Jahanara Imam 1993.jpg
Imam in 1993
Born(1929-05-03)3 May 1929
Died26 June 1994(1994-06-26) (aged 65)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Resting placeDhaka, Bangladesh
Alma materUniversity of Dhaka
University of San Diego
Sharif Imam (m. 1948⁠–⁠1971)
ChildrenShafi Imam Rumi (son)
Saif Imam Jami (son)
  • Syed Abdul Ali (father)
  • Hamida Ali (mother)

Jahanara Imam (3 May 1929 – 26 June 1994) was a Bangladeshi writer and political activist.[1] She is known for her efforts to bring those accused of committing war crimes in the Bangladesh Liberation War to trial. She has been called "Shaheed Janani" (Mother of Martyrs).[2]


Imam in 1957

Imam was born on 3 May 1929 in Murshidabad, West Bengal in the-then British India.[3][4] She was the eldest daughter in a family of three brothers and four sisters. Her father Syed Abdul Ali was a Civil Servant in the Bengal Civil Service. She lived in many different parts of Bengal – wherever her father was posted. Her mother was Hamida Ali. At that time there was a lot of social pressure against Muslim women pursuing further studies, but Hamida was determined that Jahanara's education would not be constrained.

After finishing her studies in 1945 in Carmichael College in Rangpur, Imam went to Lady Brabourne College of Calcutta University and in 1947 obtained her bachelor's degree.[5] She was an activist in Lady Brabourne College.[5] After the partition of India, she joined her family in Mymensingh in what became East Pakistan and started teaching at Vidyamoyee Govt. Girls High School.[6]

In 1948, she married Shariful Alam Imam Ahmed, a civil engineer, whom she met in Rangpur while studying at Carmichael College.[6] They settled in Dhaka and she joined Siddheswari Girls School as Head Mistress. She was instrumental in transforming the school one of the top girls' schools in Dhaka.[5]

She was the first editor of the monthly women's magazine called "Khawateen".[5] It started its publication in 1952 and she ran it successfully for several years.

In 1960, Imam gave up her job as the head mistress to concentrate on bringing up her two sons Rumi and Jami born in 1952 and 1954 respectively. She said to herself "I have given education to thousands of school children, now I should spend some time to bring up my own children".

During this time Imam finished her master's degree in Bengali language and literature and a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Dhaka in 1962 and 1963 respectively. After that she went back to full-time teaching. From 1966 to 1968 she worked as a lecturer in the Teacher's Training College in Dhaka. From 1970 she also taught for several years on a part-time basis in the Institute of Modern Language at the University of Dhaka.

Imam spent a significant part of her life in education. She visited the US in 1964–65 as a Fulbright Scholar to University of San Diego and again in 1977 under the International Visitor Program at the invitation of US Government.[5]

1971 Liberation War[edit]

In 1971, following the Pakistan army crackdown on 25 March, the Bangladesh Liberation War broke out. Many joined the liberation struggle, including Jahanara's elder son Shafi Imam Rumi, who joined the Mukti Bahini, the guerrilla resistance movement. During the war, she wrote a diary on her feelings about the struggle. This later became one of the most important publications about the War of Liberation.

Rumi took part in many actions against Pakistan army. Unfortunately, he was to be picked up by the Pakistani army, never to be seen again. Jahanara's husband and her younger son Jami along with other male members of the family were also picked up for interrogation and were tortured. Her husband Sharif Imam returned home a broken man only to die three days before Bangladesh became free on 16 December 1971.[7][8]

Literary career[edit]

Imam in 1960

After Bangladesh achieved independence, Imam started her literary career. During this time she also travelled extensively to Europe, USA and Canada. In 1986 she published her wartime diary Ekatturer Dinguli (The days of Seventy One).[6] Imam's diary, in some respect like that of Anne Frank, was a very personal account of tragedy. Her simple style of writing touched many hearts, particularly those of the families who had lost members during the war.[6]

In 1981, Imam was diagnosed with mouth cancer, and operations caused her to have difficulty speaking, she continued to write and continued her involvement with the freedom fighters. She died on 26 June 1994 in Michigan, U.S.[3] She was later buried in Dhaka.

Grave of Jahanara Imam in Martyred Intellectuals Graveyard, Mirpur


Committee for Eradicating the Killers and Collaborators of '71[edit]

As the ruler of Bangladesh, President Ziaur Rahman (1975–1981) enacted several controversial measures, ostensibly to win the support of Islamic political parties and opponents of the Awami League. In 1978, he revoked the ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami, which collaborated with the Pakistani army.[9] The formed the paramilitary Al-Badr, Al-sham, and Rajakar; and members of which had committed war crimes against civilians.[10][11]

Ghulam Azam, the exiled chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami, was allowed to come back to Bangladesh in July 1978. In 1991 December Ghulam Azam, was elected the Amir of Jamaat-e-Islami. Subsequently, Jahanara Imam organised the Ghatak-Dalal Nirmul Committee (Committee for Eradicating the Killers and Collaborators of '71),[12] and became its public face. The committee called for the trial of people who committed crimes against humanity in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War in collaboration with the Pakistani forces. The Ghatak-Dalal Nirmul Committee set up mock trials in Dhaka on 26 March 1992 known as Gono Adalat (People's Court) and 'sentenced' persons they accused of being war criminals.[13] Imam and others were reportedly charged with treason during the government of Bangladesh Nationalist party.[14] This charge was, however, dropped in 1996 after her death by the Chief Advisor Mohammed Habibur Rahman of the Caretaker government.[14] However, Bangladeshi writer and filmmaker Humayun Ahmed, disagrees that she was charged and commented that her movement was part of a "stage-managed game."[15]


Her death anniversary is observed in Bangladesh.[16] Bangladesh Nationalist Party Member of Parliament Syeda Ashifa Ashrafi has criticised Imam.[17] Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed was found guilty over the murder of her son in Bangladesh Liberation war by International Crimes Tribunal.[18] Nuran Nabi wrote a book on her titled "the last days of Jahanara Imam in America".[19]

Literary works[edit]

  • Anya Jiban (1985) (Other life)
  • Ekattorer Dingulee (1986) (The days of 1971)[6]
  • Birshrestha (1985) (The Bravest)[1]
  • Jiban Mrityu (1988) (Life and death)[1]
  • Chirayata Sahitya (1989)[1]
  • Buker Bhitare Agun (1990) (Fire in my heart)[1]
  • Nataker Abasan (1990) (End of drama)[1]
  • Dui Meru (1990) (Two poles)[1]
  • Nihsabga Pine (1990)[1]
  • Nay E Madhur Khela (1990)[1]
  • Cancer-er Sange Bosobas (1991) (Living with cancer)[1]
  • Prabaser Dinalipi (1992) (Life abroad)[1]
  • Early in her career, Jahanara Imam also translated several books from English into Bengali, including some of the popular "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Islam, Sirajul (2012). "Imam, Jahanara". In Islam, Sirajul; Kabir, Ahmad (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  2. ^ "Portrait of Shaheed Janani Jahanara Imam". The Daily Star. 14 February 2013. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Jahanara Imam's 20th death anniversary today". Dhaka Tribune. 26 June 2014. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  4. ^ "Jahanara Imam's death anniversary on Wednesday". The Dhaka Tribune. 26 June 2013. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  5. ^ a b c d e Rahman, Osama (10 December 2013). "Revisiting the Revolution". The Daily Star. Retrieved 5 April 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e Hensher, Philip (1 March 2013). "Bangladesh's bestseller about its brutal birth". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  7. ^ Karmakar, Prasanta (30 October 2009). মুক্তিযুদ্ধের নিভৃত এক সহযাত্রী. Prothom-Alo (in Bengali). Retrieved 4 January 2014.
  8. ^ "Jahanara Imam: An Unstoppable, Uniting Force". The Daily Star. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  9. ^ "Another step towards justice". The Daily Star. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  10. ^ Tithi, Naznin. "Gano Adalot". The Daily Star. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  11. ^ Shehabuddin, Elora (19 June 2012). Reshaping the Holy: Democracy, Development, and Muslim Women in Bangladesh. Columbia University Press. p. 67. ISBN 9780231512558.
  12. ^ "Return of that famous letter". The Daily Star. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  13. ^ "Jahanara Imam's death anniversary today". New Age. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  14. ^ a b Khan, Tamanna (18 July 2013). "They now can rest in peace". The Daily Star. Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  15. ^ Bashar, Reazul; Ahmed, Mustak (20 July 2008). "Humayun Ahmed draws flak from literati". Bangladesh News 24. Retrieved 7 February 2017.
  16. ^ "19th death anniversary of Jahanara Imam observed". Dhaka Tribune. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  17. ^ "Derogatory comment on Jahanara Imam". bdnews24.com. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  18. ^ "They now can rest in peace". The Daily Star. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  19. ^ "'Hope people will give a befitting reply'". The Daily Star. Retrieved 8 March 2016.

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