Roquiah Sakhawat Hossain (1880-1932)
Litterateur, educationist, social reformer, played a pioneering role in awakening Muslim women. She was born on 9 December 1880 into a landed family of Pairaband in Rangpur. Zahiruddin Abu Ali Haider Saber was her father and Rahatunnesa Chowdhury, her mother. Her ancestors served in military and judiciary departments during the Mughal regime. Named Roquiah Khatun, she is commonly known as Begum Rokeya. She came to be known as Roquiah Sakhawat Hossain after her marriage. In the literary circle, she was commonly known as Mrs RS Hossain. Roquiah’s father was a multi-lingual intellectual and was versed in Arabic, Urdu, Persian, Bangla, Hindi and English. But yet, he could not transcend the spirit of the time about women education. Like the rest of the society, Saber was also of the opinion that women should not receive education beyond the bounds of home.
Thus, while Saber sent Roquiah’s elder brothers, Mohammad Ibrahim, Abul Asad Saber and Abu Zaigam Khalilur Rahman Saber, to Saint Xavier’s College, Calcutta, Roquiah and her elder sister, Karimunnessa, were not sent to school. Though Roquiah was not allowed to receive formal education, she learnt both Bangla and English at home with the help of her brothers. Roquiah’s elder brothers and sister not only contributed to educating Roquiah, but also inspired her in writing.
In 1898, Roquiah was married to Syed Sakhawat Hossain, an Urdu-speaking man from Bhagalpur in Bihar. A deputy magistrate, Sakhawat Hossain was liberal and progressive, and encouraged his wife to study both Bangla and English and also inspired her to read literary works from home and abroad and she took the fullest advantage of the liberality of her husband. Besides reading the existing literature in Bangla very extensively, she also took to writing at the same time. Unfortunately, Roquiah had a short conjugal life. Her husband died on 3 May 1909. She had two daughters, but they died in infancy.
Despite her personal grief, Roquiah did not surrender to fate. Roquiah realised that women could be freed from their shackles only if they were educated and became independent economically. On 1 October 1909, she started a school for Muslim girls at Bhagalpur with only five students, naming it after her husband, Sakhawat Memorial Girls’ School. However, she could not continue at Bhagalpur for domestic reasons and decided to move to Calcutta.
At Calcutta she set up Sakhawat Memorial Girls’ School in a house at 13, Waliullah Lane on 16 March 1911 with eight students. The school was upgraded to Middle English Girls’ School in 1917 and to High English Girls’ School in 1931, and all through the untiring efforts of Roquiah. As the school was growing through increase of students, it became difficult to accommodate them in the small campus. In search of a permanent campus, the school was shifted from place to place. In 1931, it was at 13, European Asylum Lane; in 1932, at 162, Lower Circular Road and in 1938, at 17, Lord Sinha Road. In spite of all difficulties, Roquiah ran the school for twenty-four years, facing hostile criticism and various social obstacles, and made it one of the best seat of learning available for Muslim girls. At its early stage, mostly non-Bengali girls were admitted to Sakhawat Memorial School, because Bengali guardians seldom chose to send female members of the family to school. Roquiah is said to have gone from house to house, persuading the parents in favour of female education. She assured the guardians that students of her school would be required to maintain purda at her school. Her tireless efforts paid off. Girls of the Muslim middle class Muslim girls breaking the taboo against stepping out of the house to study. She also arranged horse-carriages so that girls could go to school and return home in purdah.
Sakhawat Memorial Girls’ School gave lessons in Bangla, English, Urdu, Persian, home nursing, first aid, cooking, sewing, physical exercise, music etc. Roquiah used to visit other girls’ schools to see for herself the teaching methods employed there and how the schools were managed. As there were not many competent female teachers at that time in Calcutta, Roquiah herself used to train the teachers. It was at her repeated urgings that the government set up the Muslim Women Training School in Calcutta in 1919. Roquiah’s thought was that social injustices and extreme forms of purdah kept Muslim women backward and helpless. She felt that the attitude of the male society to women education must be changed before women could be emancipated. Roquiah took to writing with a mission. Her mission was to change the discriminating attitude of men towards women. She used her pen to change social prejudices, religious bigotry and ignorance. Roquiah 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.
Roquiah’s writings called upon women to protest against injustices and break the social barriers that discriminated against them. Abarodhbasini (The Secluded Women, 1931) is a spirited attack on the extreme forms of purdah that endangered women’s lives and thoughts. Her other noted works include Matichur (essays lst vol 1904, 2nd Vol. 1922), Sultana’s Dream (satire, 1908), Padmarag (novel, 1924). Sultana’s Dream, which she later translated into Bangla as Sultanar Svapna, is a satirical piece, set in a place called Lady Land, a world ruled by women. 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. Roquiah also wrote fine poetry. Her poem titled ‘Saogat’ was published on the first page of the first issue of the Saogat in Agrahayan, 1325 (1918 AD).’
Roquiah Sakhawat Hossain founded an organisation called Anjuman-e-Khawatin-e-Islam, or the Muslim women’s society, in 1916 to make women aware of their rights. The society was in the forefront of the fight for women’s education, employment and their legal and political rights. The organisation defrayed the cost of education for a large number of girls and arranged marriages for many poor girls. It gave shelter to orphans and the destitute and extended financial help to widows. It also established some businesses for women to earn economic independence. Roquiah died in Calcutta on 9 December 1932.
Abul Hussain: (1896-1938) writer, intellectual and social activist, was born on 6 January 1896 at the home of his maternal uncle in Panisara in jessore. His paternal residence was at Kauria in Jessore. His father, Haji Mohammad Musa, was an Islamic scholar.
Abul Hussain passed the Matriculation examination from Jessore Zila School in 1914. He passed IA and BA from Presidency College, Kolkata, and MA in Economics (1920), BL (1922) and ML (1931) from the University of Calcutta. In 1920 he started teaching at Hare School. In 1921, he joined the Economics Department of the newly opened university of dhaka as lecturer. He also served as house tutor of Muslim Hall. In 1932, he resigned from the university and joined the Calcutta High Court as an advocate. He was responsible for drawing up the main draft of the Waqf Law, which was passed by the Bengal Legislative Assembly.
Abul Hussain wrote several books to foster the growth of modern education among the Muslim society of Bengal. In the essays of Banglar Balshi, he mainly showed how to achieve liberation for the peasant society. Inspired by the French Revolution, he wrote about the plight of the working classes in several essays, such as: ‘Krsaker Artanad’ (The Peasant’s Lament), ‘Krsaker Durdasha’ (The Peasant’s Plight) and ‘Krsi Biplaber Suchana’ (The Beginning of the Agricultural Revolution).
Abul Hussain was the moving spirit behind the buddhir mukti andolan (movement for freedom of thought), which originated from the university of dhaka and whose motto was ‘Where knowledge is limited and intellect thwarted, freedom is absurd’. He gave a constitutional shape to this movement in 1926 by forming the muslim sahitya samaj (Muslim Literary Society) in Dhaka. He also edited its mouthpiece, shikha. Among his associates were kazi abdul wadud, quazi motahar husain, muhammad shahidullah and abul fazal. As a leading member of this group, which believed in freedom of thought, Abul Hussain was ostracized by the conservative Muslim society of Dhaka city. He ultimately had to resign from his university position and move to Kolkata.
Apart from Banglar Balsi (1925), Abul Hussain also wrote several other books which reflect his liberal outlook: Bangali Mussulmander Shiksa Samasya (1928), Muslim Culture (1928), Banglar Nadi Samasya, Religion of Helots of Bengal, Development of Muslim Law in British India etc. Abul Hussain’s writings have been published by the bangla academy in Abul Hussainer Rachanabali. Abul Hussain died of cancer in Kolkata on 15 October 1938.
Educator, intellectual, was born in 1914 in the Paragram village of Nawabganj upazila of Dhaka district. Son of Abdul Ali, a police officer, Abdur Razzaq got his early education in various places including Rangpur and Hughli. He passed Matriculation from the Government Muslim High School, Dhaka, and Intermediate of Arts from Dhaka College and enrolled himself in the Department of Political Economy at Dhaka University in 1931. He passed MA in the First Class in 1936 and in the same year joined as a lecturer in the Department of Political Economy. When the department was bifurcated he opted for the Department of Political Science wherefrom he retired as a Senior Lecturer in 1975. He also taught in the departments of Economics and International Relations.
After the World War II Abdur Razzaq went over to the UK where he studied at London School of Economics under Professor Harold Laski, but he chose to return home without obtaining any formal degree after the demise of Laski. The reasons are not far to seek. According to his professional contemporaries, colleagues and friends, Razzaq was always more studious and ruminative than expressive. Though vastly learned and ever ready to vent his ideas to any inquisitive scholar, he was remorselessly reticent in writing. Besides an unpublished Ph.D thesis, a handful of essays and lectures, he has no other published work.
Pensive mood, when alone, was his normal demeanor, but while talking to his intellectual pupils, he was invariably in witty and hilarious spirit. His contributions to researches and writings of others have been glowingly acknowledged in numerous studies ranging from archaeology and history to state and politics.
Abdur Razzaq’s admirers called him reverently ‘a teacher of teachers’. His disciples included not only intellectuals, but also public leaders, including bangabandhu sheikh mujibur rahman. The ‘pernicious’ influence of his political ideas on the dissenting politicians of the 1960s once led the Ayub regime to dismiss him from his teaching position at Dhaka University on the allegation that he was not mindful of his duties as a teacher, but which the government failed to establish in the court. His ‘treasonable’ acts during the war of liberation earned him in absentia a fourteen-year rigorous imprisonment.
In recognition of his unique status among academicians and scholars, the Government of Bangladesh honoured him with the distinction of National Professor in 1975. Earlier in 1973, the University of Delhi, India, decorated him with the Ph.D honoris causa. National Professor Abdur Razzaq died on 28 November 1999.
Ahmed Sharif (1921-1999)
Educationist, thinker, and renowned scholar of medieval bangla literature. Sharif was born on 13 February 1921 in the village of Suchakradandi in patiya upazila of Chittagong district. His father was a clerk at the Chittagong Government Collegiate School. Sharif was brought up under the care of his uncle, Abdul Karim Sahityavisharad, the well-known collector of puthi literature.
Ahmed Sharif was educated at Patiya High School, Chittagong College and Dhaka University from where he obtained his MA degree in Bangla in 1944. He began his professional life as a lecturer of Bangla at Nawab Faizunnesa College in Laksham. For some time he worked as a Programme Organiser at the Dhaka station of Radio Pakistan. On 18 December 1950 Sharif joined the Bangla Department of Dhaka University as a research assistant and later became a lecturer in the department.
He was awarded the PhD degree in 1967 from Dhaka University for his thesis on the Bangla medieval poet syed sultan. In 1972 he became a professor. He was at various times chairman of the Bangla Department, Dean of the Faculty of Arts, member of the Syndicate, and president of the Teachers’ Association. After his retirement from Dhaka University after 33 years of service in June 1983, he was appointed Nazrul Professor at Chittagong University for two years (1984-86).
Ahmed Sharif’s research work began with the puthis which his uncle, Abdul Karim Sahityavisarad, had donated to Dhaka University. He soon became an expert in Puthi literature. He edited 40 puthis. The first book published by the Bangla Academy was his edited work Laily-majnu (1957), by the 16th century poet daulat uzir bahram khan. The first book published by the Bangla Department of Dhaka University was also a book edited by him, Puthi Parichiti (1958), containing brief descriptions of the 600 puthis donated by his uncle. The puthis edited by Sharif include Alaol’s Tohfa (1958) and Sikandarnama (1977), Muhammad Khan’s Satya-Kali-Bibad-Sangbad (1959), Muslim Kavir Padasahitya (1961), Jayenuddin’s Rasulbijay (1964), Muzammil’s Nitishastrabarta (1965), Madhyayuger Ragtalnama (1967), Babglar Sufisahitya (1969), Afzal Ali’s Nasihatnama (1969), Baultattva (1973), and Syed Sultan’s Nabibangsha , Rasulcharita (1978).
Sharif got great reputation as a specialist of Bangla medieval literature. While he studied the valuable contributions made by the Bengali Muslims, in writing the literary history of this period Sharif surveyed the contributions of all Bengali writers irrespective of religion. Bangali O Bangla Sahitya (in two volumes 1978, 1983), perhaps his finest work, is a comprehensive history of medieval Bangla literature. It throws light on the society and culture of medieval Bengal and the literature of different communities, such as, Buddhist literature, vaisnava literature, baul literature, and sufi literature. Sharif was the exponent of the theory of the Dark Age of Bangla literature. He also greatly contributed to the study of love stories and religious books written by Muslims as well as puthis, written bi-lingually. Some of his other books on the literature of the Medieval Period are Syed Sultan: Tanr Granthabali O Tanr Yuga (1972), Madhyayuger Sahitye Samaj O Sangskrtir Rup (1977) and Madhyayuger Bangla Sahitya (1985).
Sharif was also a distinguished essayist and thinker. He started writing essays in the forties and continued to write until his death. His area of interest in writing was Bangladesh, Bengali society, and Bangla language and literature. He was concerned with the idea of Bangladeshi identity and wrote immensely on the subject. Toward the end of his life, he used to write columns regularly in daily and weekly newspapers. His essays on Bangladesh society, literature, politics, religion, and philosophy have been published in many books, which include Bichita Chinta (1968), Sahitya O Sangskrti Chinta (1969), Svadesh Anvesa (1970), Jibane Samaje Sahitye (1970), Pratyay O Pratyasha (1971), Yug Yantrana (1974) Kaler Darpane Svadesh (1985), Bangalir Chinta-Chetanar Bibartan Dhara (1987), Banglar Biplabi Patabhumi (1989), Bangladesher Sampratik Chalchitra (1990), Manabata O Ganamukti (1990), Bangla, Bangali O Bangalitva (1992), Pragatir Badha O Pantha (1994), E Shatake Amader Jibandharar Ruparekha (1994), Svadesh Chinta (1997) Jijvasa O Anvesha (1997), Bish Shatake Bangali (1998), Bishvasbad, Vijvanbad, and Yuktibad and Maulabad (2000).
Sharif was a rationalist and humanist who possessed strength of character and determination. He was a dedicated and fearless intellectual, who criticised any government that resorted to unjust and anti-people policies. He wrote and spoke strongly against fundamentalism, military rule, autocracy and the opponents to Bangladesh liberation. His writings were often controversial, inviting the anger of those he criticised. All his life Sharif was associated with associations and institutions committed to humanism, human rights and intellectual freedom. In March 1971 he swore the writers of Bangladesh at the central shaheed minar in dhaka to the fight against Pakistani autocracy. After liberation he was a central figure of many societies, among them the Committee for the Protection of Fundamental Rights and Legal Aid, bangladesh lekhak shibir, Bangladesh Bhasha Samity, Colonel Taher Sansad, Ganatantrik Sanskritik Front and Swadesh Chinta Sangha. He was the General Secretary of the Asiatic Society of Bangladesh from 1969 to 1973.
Despite the controversies that Sharif aroused, his scholarship was recognised by all. Among the awards he received were the Bangla Academy Literary Prize, Daud Literary Prize, National Ekushe Award. Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata, awarded him an honorary DLitt.
Ahmed Sharif was a secular person and did not believe in religious dogmas. Once some religious leaders declared him ‘murtad’ and announced not to render religious rituals after death. He responded to this announcement by donating his body after death to the Dhaka Medical College for research and his wishes were carried out after his death on 24 February 1999.
Writer and critic. Ahmed Sofa articulated dissenting views, progressive man of letters, and an organiser, was born in a middle-class family in Gachhbaria village under Chandanaish upazila in Chittagong on 30 June 1943. After receiving his secondary and higher secondary education in Chittagong, he studied at the University of Dhaka. Although he never paid much stress on formal education, he received his MA degree in political science and later did research work for a PhD; but he was not able to earn the degree. An autodidact and a confirmed bachelor, Sofa was an free thinker.
Sofa was a very intelligent and original writer. He started writing creativity in the 1960’s and left his mark through in his stories, novels, poems, essays, critical works, translations, juvenile literature, and composition in other such areas. He had also edited many literary magazines. He is considered a successful writer of fiction and used his own personal experience as the basis of his stories and novels. He tried to portray the desire and hopes of people and their need for salvation and independence.
He also protested against social injustice through his writing. The novels he wrote are Surya Tumi Sathi (Sun, you are my companion, 1967), Uddhar (Rescue, 1975), Ekjan Ali Kenaner Utthan Patan (The rise and fall of one Ali Kenan, 1989), Alatachakra (A circle of fire, 1990), Ongkar (The chest-note, 1993), Gabhibrittanta (Accounts of cows, 1994), Ardhek Nari Ardhek Ishvari (Half woman and half goddess, 1996) and Puspa Briksa O Bihabgapurana (Flower tree and the accounts of birds, 1996). His volume of stories is titled Nihata Naksatra (Murdered star, 1969).
He had a distinctive poetic style. His collections of poems include Jallad Samay (Time, the executioner), Ekti Prabin Bater Kachhe Prarthana (A prayer to an old banyan tree), Lenin Ghumobe Ebar (Lenin will now sleep) etc. He leavened his poetical style with his feelings, use of dialect and figures from legends, etc. He also translated Faust by Goethe and the agnostic writings of Bertrand Russell, but he is chiefly noted for his scholarship as an essayist.
Sofa’s research focussed on the society of Bengali Muslims, its awakening, formative period, development, intellectual progress etc. Inspired by Bangali nationalism in the 1960’s, he like many others started to trace the origins of its self. His reflections on such matters are expressed in two of his books- Buddhibrttir Natun Binyas (New exercise of intellect, 1973) and Bangali Musalmaner Man (The Mind of the Bengali Muslims, 1976). These two works, along with his other essays on the nation, society and politics, earned him fame as an intellectual. His exploration of social, political or cultural history led to the book called Sipahi Yuddher Itihas (History of the Sepoy movement); his Yadyapi Amar Guru (He is still my teacher) traces the interaction between different sages and society. He also wrote on politics and Bankimchandra. He regularly contributed columns to many newspapers and periodicals, towards the end of his life, he wrote some essays critiquing the society, culture and politics of the country.
Ahmed Sofa was against opportunism. He was a champion of idealism and progressive culture. A good organiser, Sofa played an important role in mobilising writers along with ahmed sharif to establish bangladesh lekhak shibir (Bangladesh writers’ camp) in the nineteen seventies. He always wanted the young to rise to the occasion. He always endeavoured to inspire people to participate in progressive humanitarian causes. He died of cardiac arrest on 28 July 2001.
Humayun Azad (1947-2004)
Poet, novelist, story-teller, researcher, linguist. He was born in Rarhikhal of Bikrampur on 28 April 1947. His father Abdur Rashid was a school-teacher, mother Jobeda Khatun was a housewife. His original name was Humayun Kabir. He accepted the name Humayun Azad on 28 September in 1988 by the magistrate of Narayanganj district.
Humayun Azad passed the secondary examination from Sir Jagadishchandra Basu Institute in 1962, higher secondary examination from Dhaka College in 1964, BSc Honours and MA in Bangla literature from Dhaka University in 1967 and 1968 respectively and PhD in linguistics from Edinburgh University in 1976. Humayun Azad started his professional career in 1969 by joining the Chittagong College. Later, he joined Chittagong University as a Lecturer on 11 February 1970 and as Lecturer of Jahangirnagar University in 1972. He was appointed as Associate Professor of Bangla department under Dhaka University on 1 November 1978 and was promoted to the rank of professor in 1986.
His first book of poetry titled Aloukik Istimar and master’s thesis Rabindra Probandha: Rashtra O Samajchinta were published in 1973. At that time, he concentrated on writing poetry alongside linguistic research. His second book of poetry Jvalo Chitabagh was published in 1983. His three books on linguistics were Bangla Bhashar Shatru-mitra (1983), Pro-nominalisation in Bengali (1983), Bakyatatva (1984). His edited books: Bangla Bhasha (2 volumes, 1984, 1985), Adhunik Bangla Kavita (1994), Muhammad Abdul Hye Rachanabali (3 volumes, 1994), Rabindranath Thakurer Prodhan Kavita (1997). His two books on linguistic science: Tulonamulak O Autihasik Bhashabijnan (1988) and Arthabigyan (1999).
Humayun Azad’s command over literary criticism and his intellectual depth can be observed in the books: Shamsur Rahman/Nihshanga Sherpa (1983), Bimanobikikaran O Onyanya Probandha (1988), Bhasha Andolan: Sahityik Patabhumi (1990), Naree (1992), Narakey Ananta Ritu (1992), Probachan Guchchha (1992), Shimabaddhatar Sutra (1993), Adhar O Adheya (1993), Amar Abishvas (1997), Nirbachita Probandha (1999), Amra Ki Ei Bangladesh Cheyechhilam (2003), etc.
Although he was influenced by Buddhadeb Bhattacharya in language and style, his originality was undeniable. Besides expressing his own views, his novels described different frictions present in the society and culture of this region. They include: Chhappanna Hajar Bargamile (1994), Sab Kichhu Bhenge Pare (1995), Manush Hishebe Amar Aparadhsamuha (1996), Jadukarer Mrityu (1996), xhubhabrata, Tar Samparkita Susamachar, Rajneetibidgan (1998), Kavi Athaba Dandita Apurush (1999), Nijer Sange Nijer Jibaner Madhu (2000), Fali Fali Kare Kata Chand (2001), Srabaner Brishtite Raktajaba (2002).
By writing some books on juvenile literature, he has demonstrated his extraordinary talent and intellect as a literary creator. These are characterised by inspirational language and include: Lal-Nil Dwipabali (1976), Phuler Gandhey Ghum Ashey Na (1985), Kato Nadi Sarobar (1987), Abbuke Mone Pare (1989), Bukpockete Jonakipoka (1993), Amader Shahare Ekdal Deb-doot (1996), Andhakare Gandharaj (2003), etc. His poetic temperament was exposed in the following works of poetry: Jatoi Gobhire Jai Modhu Jatoi Upare Jai Neel (1987), Ami Beche Chhilam Onyader Samoye (1990), Kavya Sangraha (1998), Kafoney Mora Ashrubindu (1998). He was awarded the Bangla Academy prize for his contributions to literature.
Humayun Azad can be considered as the country’s outstanding non-traditional and multidimensional writer. He used to avoid stereotype thinking quite consciously. He was a very popular but controversial writer. He wrote whatever he conceived with courage and as a result he attracted the wrath of many. At one stage, he was assaulted by some fundamentalists and became crippled in the process. His three books Naree (1992), Dwitiya Linga (2001), Pak Sar Zamin Sadbad (2003) created storms of controversy and at one stage the government banned these books. Azad enjoyed enormous popularity among the younger generation. He went to Germany when the German PEN authority granted him a research fellowship for one year (1 August 2004-31 July 2005) on the ‘Life of Poet Heinrich Heine and Bangla Translation of His Poems’. He died in the city of Munich there on 12 August 2004. [Muhammad Saiful Islam]