Mahfuza writes: “In the era of illiteracy, ignorance, superstition and blind bigotry about Muslim women of Bengal, Begum Rokeya, who possessed unique talent, was born in 1880…” Read on to know more about a woman pioneer par excellence:

She was born in an elite conservative family of Payaraband village in the Rangpur district of Bangladesh and died of a heart attack on the 9th of December 1932. Her father Zahiruddin Abu Ali Saber was a noble landowner. Begum Rokeya’s mother was Rahatunnessa Saber Chaudhurani. The strictness of the social system prevalent in the society of that time was fully present in her family, where female education was considered a sin. Begum Rokeya didn’t get a formal education in that time’s superstitious social and family environment.

Although brought up in such a closed social environment, Begum Rokeya could bring herself out of it because her thirst for knowledge was infinite. She got immense support from elder brother Ibrahim Saber and sister Karimunnessa in this regard. Ibrahim Saber taught Begum Rokeya with great care and talked about various stories of the nation and abroad. During that time, a rigid form of women’s lifestyle was completely imposed in society. There was little opportunity to develop one’s personality through acquired qualities. Rokeya had not accepted this social prejudice since childhood. Heartless indifference towards women, social oppression, inhuman treatment and discrimination pained her mind. So, she first pursued education for self-improvement. She found that Muslim women had degenerated under the siege of illiteracy, superstition and ignorance.

Therefore, the emancipation of Bengali women, especially Bengali Muslim women, was Begum Rokeya’s adoring desire. She considered the spread of women’s education the key to this and made it the main duty of her life. However, the origin of this duty lies in her literary practice. She engaged with literature for a long period of three decades. Her journey begins at the age of twenty-three and continues until the night before death. She wrote five books, sixteen essays, six short stories and prose works and seven poems. However, her literary practice was not aimed at merely creating literature. Its main aspect was the benefit of society and women’s empowerment.

The oppressed female life experience of childhood and adolescence and the European spirit of women’s emancipation and equality transmitted through the medium of English education inspired Rokeya to the mantra of women’s awakening. Added to that was her deep compassion And a strict sense of responsibility for the women of her society. At the root of all Rokeya’s actions, even her literary pursuits, there was this pain and sense of duty. Even in that era, Rokeya rightly understood that women’s emancipation must be achieved by self-establishment. 

And for that, first of all, they needed education. Education here does not mean only the observance of religion, the service of husband and elders, the knowledge of raising children or managing a family, but real life-enhancing education. So she took women’s education as her
life’s vow. And while fulfilling this vow, she had to stand against the entire society of that day.


She wanted to educate Muslim women in such a way that they would regain their mental strength inspired by high social ideals. Rokeya took on the responsibility of building women’s role in social development. Based on this context, she said in ‘Educational Ideals for
the Modern Indian’, “Our girls should not only obtain university degrees, but must be ideal daughters, wives and mothers, or I may say obedient, loving sisters, dutiful wives and Instructive mothers.”

How to activate ideals in women was Rokeya’s daily effort and thought. To make this idea a reality, she established Sakhawat Memorial Girls School. There Rokeya introduced the modern style of education. Rokeya was in favour of including science, literature, geography, history, and arithmetic in the school curriculum under mental and physical education. She included general subjects in the curriculum along with nutrition, animal husbandry, botany, chemistry, thermography etc.

Besides, she emphasized the education of subjects like domestic science, indexical science, nursing system, child-rearing system etc. Along with science education, Rokeya is also said to teach historical and geographical subjects. She also considered it very important to master the use of language. She indicated that learning English and other languages besides the mother tongue is beneficial for self-improvement. She realised that without both scientific and humanistic knowledge, the mental development of the student would not be balanced. In
teaching historical and geographical subjects, she emphasised the knowledge of the environment and people of different places.
Leisure education also figured prominently in her curriculum. In leisure, she advocated studying photography and music. Begum Rokeya also gave a special place to handwork in the school curriculum. Rokeya considered mental education as equally important as physical education. 

For physical education, she asked girls to be taught stick games, dagger games, threshing, preparation of flour and all kinds of housework. She said that physical exercise is a hundred times better than just jumping, dancing, etc. Rokeya was also conscious of making education complete and effective. So she wanted to teach by allowing students to travel or visit different places amid nature outside the four walls. In this way, she felt that the student should be encouraged to ignore the dangers and inaccessibility of acquiring knowledge. According to Rokeya, travel was also necessary for those with strong religious beliefs. Rokeya believed that to know the Creator through the world of creation, it is necessary to explain the meaning of the Qur’an. She urged the students to build their lives according to the instructions of the Qur’an. She believed that people deviated from the religion due to disobeying the instructions of the Qur’an. She talked about teaching by explaining the meaning of prayer words used in Salah.

The importance of Begum Rokeya in the history of women’s education in Bengali Muslim society is immense. From the first decade of the 20th century till her death, Begum Rokeya continuously did social service. She was able to realise that the development of the country
and the nation is impossible if half of the population in the country is left ignorant. So, she devoted herself completely to the women’s liberation movement. She delivered the message of liberation to women who were denied this dream.


Arifa Sultana, Begum Rokeya’s role in spreading women’s education

Shamsun Nahar, Rokeya’s Biography

Mrs. R. S. Hussain, ‘Degradation of Women’

Edited by Abdul Qadir, Rokeya Rachnaballi Mohammad Nasiruddin, Bengali Literature Saugat Yug


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