Rokeya’s Dream

Born in 1880 in Rangpur, Begum Rokeya was thrust upon an age, where education opportunities for girls were virtually non-existent. Yet, she defied her father’s restrictions, the patriarch of her family and learned English as well as Bangla. This had a visible effect in her subsequent writings. In her literary works, she highlighted the importance of female education, establishment of women as equal partners in all social, economic and family affairs.

Begum Rokeya was scathingly critical of the purdah and teaching girls at home. She had strong feelings against the custom of letting women outside home under strict veiling. She considers such practices the main obstacle against properly educating women.

Begum Rokeya’s views on Purdah were pragmatic. She wanted to show, how the mullah class of the society suppresses and secludes women using the Custom. They prohibit women from any activities outside home.

“The system reminds me of the lethal carbonic acid gas, which being a painless killer, its victims are never alert to its hazards. Women kept confined to the home die a slow death by the effect of this fatal gas known as purdah” she wrote in Abarodhbasini.

Her intention was not to attack Islam though. Her angle of argument was women were subjugated in the name of religion. Religion was not secluding women; rather it was the patriarchal interpretation of religion was. She scathed in the preface of Abarodhbasini by saying:

“When visiting Kurseong and Madhupur, I picked up many beautiful attractive stones. From the sea beaches of Madras and Orissa, I gathered seashells of many colours and shapes. And during my twenty years of service to the society, I have collected only curses from our die-hard Mullas….. Every part of my body oozes sin, so I make no apology for any fault in this book.”

In Sultana’s Dream (1905), a utopian science fiction, she envisioned a place where veiling lost traction for the convenience of women’s work. Her language of criticism grew more seething against this custom in Abarodhbasini (The Woman Confined) in 1929.

Her language of protest spared none. She launched volleys of attacks against the Islamic religious preachers for upholding and prescribing to the strict form of body covering, which in Rokeya’s view, was only to cocoon the girls within the hearth.

She died of heart complications on  December 9, 1932. On which was her 52nd birthday. In Bangladesh, 9 December is celebrated as Rokeya Day.

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