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Begum Sufia Kamal

Bangladesh Table of Contents


Click here to read Taharei Pore Mone by Begum Sufia Kamal

Poet Sufia Kamal was born in 1911 on the 20th of June in an aristocratic family of Barisal. The aristocracy which was known throughout Bengal as the Nabab of Sayestabad's was a family which with its feudal egotism ignored the concept of female education, together with this prevailed the strict notion of female seclusion from social, economic and political life. It boasted of its Muslim heritage and cherished a culture of confining their women only to activities centered around rearing children, refining their needle work, and discussing the recipes of pickles and religious rituals simultaneously. As aristocratic Muslims they preferred to speak Urdu than Bengali. Arabic and Persian were given importance as texts to be read and revered. The conservative mode of life offered little to the prospect of developing a girl child to compete with the many of the Hindu aristocratic families who had embraced modern concepts and progressive life styles.

In surrounding with tightly drawn Venetian blinds to keep out the light of liberalism it was difficult for a girl child to reflect on a life beyond the defined life style. Under this precarious situation, helped by her mother Sabera Begum, Sufia Kamal learned to read Bengali.

At the innocent age of 12 she was married to her cousin Syed Nehal Hossain and came to live in the town of Barisal. Her husband was progressive enough to encourage female education and it is with his inspiration and under his guidance Sufia Kamal came to know of the various literary work of that time. It was then that she came to respect Rokeya Shakhawat's work and became her admirer. Secretly she cultivated her creativity and positively inspired by Rokeya's writings she ventured to publish her own.

In 1923 a renowned weekly of Barisal printed her first literary work. Most of the writers of her time were amazed to see her writing and appreciated that a Muslim girl had come forward to enter the Bengali literary world.

During the thirties she came to live in Calcutta the then center of cultural activities and an aspiring metropolis of that time. She met personalities such stature as the poet Rabindranath Tagore, rebel poet of Bengal Kazi Nazrul Islam, renowned litterateur Sarat Chandra and the dynamic political figure Netaji Suchash Bose.  The person who had great influence on her life was the editor of the then Muslim journal "Saugat" Mohammad Nasiruddin. He inspired her to carry on with her literary endeavor. She moved into the more enlightened circle of Calcutta and walked out of the Purdah, joining hands with those who were social and cultural activists. Rokeya had  set up her Anjumane-Khawateen-e-Islam with the aim to enhance the socio-cultural activities of the Muslim women. She met Rokeya there and dedication towards the cause of women's emancipation specially those who were being deprived of social privileges due to conservatism restricting Muslim women's mobility, took root strongly in her, she herself broke the age old norm and ventured to work outside the home.

On the eve of Poet Rabidranath Tagore's birthday she composed a poetry and dedicated it to the occasion. The poet invited her to his house, and presented her the famous novel "Gora". Since then they had exchanged innumerous letters of appreciation. In 1938 Rabidranath Tagore wrote to her that he was amazed by her literary capacity. He blessed he with the saying "In Bengali literature you will be hailed as one of eminence, and that is un-restrainable." At the same time Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam having read her poetry in "Saugat" wrote her a letter of praise. She was lauded by great admirers of her poetry.

In 1932 the sudden death of her husband put her in an unpredictable, crucial situation. She faced economic disparity and this made her seek a job, she took up teaching at the Calcutta Corporation School and worked there till 1942. In 1939 she remarried Mr. Kamaluddin Ahmed of Chittagong who was then working in Calcatta.

In 1947 after the partition of Bengal, she joined the "Begum" a journal for women, as the editor. She had come to settle in Dhaka with her husband and children. In Dhaka, she participated in the movement for democracy, and other social and cultural activities for progress. She was specially involved in the women's movement and became the pioneer to initiate it in this part of Bengal. She with her active participation and initiative set up the famous "Mohila Parishad" of today.

Procession led by Poet Sufia Kamal

The language movement that generated a new awakening and active participation of men and women from all quarters could not go unheeded by a conscious person as Sufia Kamal. She not only joined the movement, rather she brought along other women to participate in it. Those who had been protesting against imposition of Urdu as the only state language of Pakistan for both wings, a repressive concept imposed on a group of people who belonged to distinct and different culture, the Bengalis, were punished for the uprising and killed. This was beginning of the language movement in the eastern wing of Pakistan. Begum Sufia Kamal severely criticized the killing and came out in the street to protest the act. This protest continued and she took an active part in a all the movements that gradually changed form and resulted in the fight for democracy. In 1971, during the liberation struggle she was vocal against the brutal repression and sent her children to participate in the war.

She has dedicated her life for women's emancipation and movement. Her appeal for enhancement of women's dignity had been adhered by men of all classes, and women answered it with their active participation. Today she is the chairperson of the Mohila Parishad, the largest women's organization in Bangladesh. she is still active in protesting against communalism and religio-fundamentalism.

Her writings still continue. She had been awarded both national and international honor not once but several times. On special occasions and events she received 40 medals among which the "Ekushe Podok" Bangla Academy Prize, and Lenin Prize are of great significance to her.

Step Towards Development handed over the "Rokeya Crest" for 1996 for her contribution to literature, women's education, women and human rights and felt honored to do so.

Bangladesh Table of Content

Source: Celebrating 'Rokeya Day', Steps Towards Development. (Adhunika)  
(Published on April - June 1997, 6th Issue of Steps Towards Development)

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