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Begum Rokeya

Roquia Sakhawat Hussain
Born Roquia Khatun
(1880-12-09)9 December 1880
Rangpur, Bengal Presidency, British Indian Empire (modern Bangladesh)
Died 9 December 1932(1932-12-09) (aged 52)
Occupation Social worker, writer,Muslim feminist
Nationality Bangladeshi
Ethnicity Bengali

Begum Roquia Sakhawat Hussain, (9 December 1880 – 9 December 1932), popularly known as Begum Rokeya , was a leading feminist writer and social worker in undivided Bengal during the early 20th century. She is most famous for her efforts on behalf of gender equality and other social issues.[1][2] She established the first school aimed primarily at Muslim girls, which still exists today. She was a notable Muslim feminist; modern feminist writers such as Taslima Nasrin cite her as an influence.[3] Begum Rokeya also wrote short stories and novels. Her important works are Sultana's Dream and Padmarag.


  • Names 1
  • Life 2
  • Gender equality 3
  • Works 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


She was born Roquia Khatun but achieved prominence as Begum Roquia Sakhawat Hussain after marriage, after her husbands name: Sakhawat Hussain. Begum is an honorific, that is, a title of respect in addressing Muslim women. When she wrote in English, she transliterated her name as Roquia.


Birth Place of Begum Roquia in Pairabondh, Rangpur

Roquia Khatun was born in 1880 in the village of Pairabondh,Mithapukur, Rangpur, present Bangladesh, in what was then the British Indian Empire. Her father, Jahiruddin Muhammad Abu Ali Haidar Saber, was a highly educated zamindar (landlord). Roquia had two sisters, Karimunnesa Khatun and Humayra Khatun; and three brothers, one of whom died in childhood. Roquia's eldest brother Ibrahim, and her immediate elder sister Karimunnesa, both had great influence on her life. Karimunnesa wanted to study Bengali, the language of the majority in Bengal. The family disliked this because many upper class Muslims of the time preferred to use Arabic and Persian as the media of education, instead of their native language, Bengali. Ibrahim taught English and Bengali to Roquia and Karimunnesa; both sisters became authors.

Karimunnesa married at the age of fourteen, later earning a reputation as a poet. Both of her sons, Nawab Abdul Karim Gaznawi and Nawab Abdul Halim Gaznawi, became famous in the political arena and occupied ministerial portfolios under British authorities.

Roquia married at the age of sixteen in 1896. Her Urdu-speaking husband, Khan Bahadur Sakhawat Hussain, was the Deputy Magistrate of Bhagalpur, which is now a district under the Indian state of Bihar. He continued her brother's work by encouraging her to keep learning Bengali and English. He also suggested that she write, and on his advice she adopted Bengali as the principal language for her literary works because it was the language of the masses. She launched her literary career in 1902 with a Bengali essay entitled Pipasa (Thirst).

In 1909, Sakhawat Hussain died. He had encouraged his wife to set aside money to start a school primarily for Muslim women. Five months after his death, Roquia established a high school in her beloved husband's memory, naming it Sakhawat Memorial Girls' High School.[4] It started in Bhagalpur, a traditionally Urdu-speaking area, with only five students. A dispute with her husband's family over property forced Roquia to move the school in 1911 to Calcutta (now known as Kolkata), a Bengali-speaking area.[4] It remains one of the city's most popular schools for girls and is now run by the state government of West Bengal.

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

Begum Roquia also 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. As such, she is one of the first Islamic feminists. She was inspired by the traditional Islamic learning as enunciated in the Qur'an, and believed that modern Islam had been distorted or corrupted; her organisation Anjuman e Khawateen e Islam organised many events for social reforms based on the original teachings of Islam that, according to her, were lost.

Begum Roquia remained busy with the school, the association, and her writings for the rest of her life. She died of heart problems on 9 December 1932. In Bangladesh, 9 December is celebrated as Rokeya Day.

Gender equality

Statue of Begum Roquia in Begum Rokeya Memorial Centre, Pairabondh, Rangpur

Begum Roquia was an inspiring figure who contributed much to the struggle to liberate women from the bondage of social malaises. Her life can be seen in the context of other social reformers within what was then India. To raise popular consciousness, especially among women, she wrote a number of articles, stories and novels, mostly in Bengali.

Begum Roquia used humour, irony, and satire to focus attention on the injustices faced by Bengali-speaking Muslim women. She criticised oppressive social customs forced upon women that were based upon a corrupted version of Islam, asserting that women fulfilling their potential as human beings could best display the glory of Lord.

Begum Roquia wrote courageously against restrictions on women to promote their emancipation, which, she believed, would come about by breaking the gender division of labour. She rejected discrimination for women in the public arena and believed that discrimination would cease only when women were able to undertake whatever profession they chose. In 1926, Begum Roquia strongly condemned men for withholding education from women in the name of religion as she addressed the Bengal women's education conference:

The opponents of the female education say that women will be unruly ... fie! They call themselves muslims and yet go against the basic tenet of islam which gives equal right to education. If men are not led astray once educated, why should women?


  • Pipasha ("Thirst", 1902).
  • Motichur (essays, 1st vol 1904, 2nd Vol. 1922). The second volume of Matichur includes stories and fairy tales such as Saurajagat (The Solar System), Delicia Hatya (translation of the Murder of Delicia, by Mary Corelli), Jvan-phal (The Fruit of Knowledge), Nari-Sristi (Creation of Women), Nurse Nelly, Mukti-phal (The Fruit of Emancipation), etc.
  • Sultana's Dream, (satire, 1908) a notable early work of feminist science fiction involving a utopian male/female role-reversal. It is a satirical piece, a feminist utopia, set in a place called Lady Land, a world ruled by women. Later translated as Sultanar Swopno.[5][6]
  • Saogat (1918, poetry). Her poem titled ‘Saogat’ was published on the first page of the first issue of the Saogat in Agrahayan.
  • Padmarag ("Essence of the Lotus", novel, 1924). A feminist utopia.
  • Oborodhbashini ("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, republished in God gives, man robs and other writings, Dhaka, Narigrantha Prabartana, 2002
  • Education Ideals for the Modern Indian Girl, 1931, republished in Rokeya Rachanabali, Abdul Quadir (editor), Dhaka, Bangla Academy, 2006

Begum Rokeya wrote in a number of genres, short stories, poems, essays, novels and satirical writings, developing 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. RS Hossain. However, there is an opinion that her first published writing Pipasha appeared in the Nabaprabha in 1902. She wrote regularly for the Saogat, Mohammadi, Nabaprabha, Mahila, Bharatmahila, Al-Eslam, Nawroz, Mahe-Nao, Bangiya Mussalman Sahitya Patrika, The Mussalman, Indian Ladies Magazine, etc. Her writings called upon women to protest against injustices and break the social barriers that discriminated against them.


  1. ^ Shahida Akhter (2012). "Hossain, Roquiah Sakhawat". In Sirajul Islam and Ahmed A. Jamal. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.).  
  2. ^
  3. ^ Targett, motiur (24 February 1995). "She who makes holy men fume".  
  4. ^ a b Dr. Barnita Bagchi (1 October 2003). "Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain". Retrieved 16 May 2010. 
  5. ^ Debaprasad Bandyopadhyay. চিনিতে পারিনি? (Dream-Lady: Can't I Re-Cognize? (Begum Rokeya's Sultana's Dream).
  6. ^

External links

  • Hasan, Md. Mahmudul (2012) Marginalisation of muslim writers in South Asian literature: Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain's English works. South Asia Research, 32 (3). pp. 179-197. ISSN 0262-7280 (Print) 1741-3141 (Online). Available at
  • Asiatic, Vol. 7, No 2 ( . See articles on Rokeya in this issue of the journal.
  • The Essential Rokeya: Selected of Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain. Leiden, Boston: Brill Publishing, 2013.
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