Hossain, Rokeya Sakhawat (1880–1932)

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Hossain, Rokeya Sakhawat (1880–1932)

Bengal Muslim emancipator and educator. Name variations: Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain. BornRokeya Saber in rural Rangpur (present-day Bangladesh), in 1880; died in 1932; married Sakhawat Hossain (deputy magistrate of Bhagalpur); no children.

Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain was born in 1880 in rural Rangpur (present-day Bangladesh) and raised in the ashraf way of life. Observing purdah (the practice of secluding women) from the age of five, she was confined to her house and forced to keep hidden from all visitors, including women. In this restrictive environment, Hossain managed to receive an education through the efforts of her eldest brother, Ibrihim Saber, who studied with her in the darkness of night. Hossain was not only bright and curious but hard-working, often studying through the night until morning prayers. Ibrihim was also instrumental in postponing Hossain's date of marriage for as long as possible, and, when the time came, he enthusiastically endorsed Sakhawat Hossain, the educated, Westernized man she eventually wed. Hossain was additionally inspired by her older sister Karimunnessa Saber , a determined and resourceful young girl who learned to read and write by eavesdropping on her brothers' tutors. Karimunnessa later married into a liberal, modern family who encouraged her to further her education. She read thousands of books and was a gifted poet. Karimunnessa not only served as a mentor to the young Hossain, but also inspired her to constantly question and to seek her own identity.

The date of Hossain's marriage is unknown, but her husband was the deputy magistrate of Bhagalpur and a man of some power. Educated in England and a frequent visitor to the Continent, Sakhawat championed education for women and encouraged his wife to fulfill her potential. He helped her improve her English and stimulated her intellect with books and new ideas. Later, he assisted her in her own educational causes and, upon his death, left her a large sum of money to spend on schools for Muslim girls.

Relieved of her domestic duties and having no children, Hossain began actively promoting female education by starting a school with a handful of local girls, personally conducting them to school in a specially designed purdahnasheen carriage. In 1911, she established the successful Sakhawat Memorial Girls' School in Calcutta. She simultaneously campaigned for the emancipation of purdahnasheen women by establishing the Bengal branch of the Anjuman-e-Khawatin Islam, in 1916.

Rokeya Hossain was also a noted writer, producing a novel, several plays, poems, and short stories. Her best-known work, Sultana's Dream, was written to impress her husband when he returned from a tour. It was published in the Indian Ladies Magazine, in 1905, and continues to be anthologized. Hossain also published regularly in other journals.


Hossain, Yasmin. "The Education of the Secluded Ones: Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain 1880–1932," in Canadian Woman Studies. Vol. 13, no. 13. Fall 1992.

suggested reading:

Williams, A. Susan, ed. The Lifted Veil: The Book of Fantastic Literature by Women. NY: Carroll & Graf, 1992.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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Hossain, Rokeya Sakhawat (1880–1932)

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