Begum Rokeya Day is being observed on Wednesday, marking the 140th birth and 88th death anniversary of Begum Rokeya Shakhawat Hossain, the trailblazer women rights advocate and activist in the Indian subcontinent.
She was born in 1880 at Pairaband village in Rangpur and passed away in 1932 on the same date, December 9.
Following COVID-19 guidelines, this year the day is scheduled to be observed by various government, private, socio-cultural and political organisations with prayer sessions, placing floral wreaths on her portraits and sculptures, discussions, seminars and more.
Five prominent women - Dr Shireen Akhter in education, Col Dr Nazma Begum in women’s emancipation, Monjulika Chakma in socio-economic development, Begum Mushtari Shafi in literature and culture, and Farida Akter in women’s rights, received the Begum Rokeya 2020 award on Wednesday for their outstanding contributions to society and women empowerment.
The award ceremony was held at the Bangladesh Shishu Academy auditorium at 10pm.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina virtually joined the event while State Minister for Women and Children Affairs Fazilatun Nessa Indira would physically hand over the awards, medals and cheques to the awardees.
The Rangpur district administration is scheduled to place wreaths at the memorial sculpture of Begum Rokeya at Pairaband in the morning, followed by a discussion programme on the day at noon which will be virtually joined by State Minister for Cultural Affairs KM Khalid as the chief guest, along with Rangpur-5 constituency AL lawmaker HN Ashiqur Rahman.
Bangla Academy placed wreaths at the sculpture of Begum Rokeya at 10am at Rangpur. However, unlike last year, no programme will take place on Wednesday at Bangla Academy headquarter in Dhaka due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Bangladesh National Museum is scheduled to arrange a seminar on Begum Rokeya at its Poet Sufia Kamal Auditorium at 4pm, which will be joined by State Minister for Cultural Affairs KM Khalid as the chief guest.
Bangladesh Nari Mukti Sangsad will also arrange a discussion event at the Workers Party of Bangladesh office at 4pm on Topkhana Road in the capital.
HerStory Foundation will host a digital reading circle on Begum Rokeya's book Padmarag on Wednesday, 7pm on the online platform Zoom.
Begum Rokeya is widely known and respected as the pioneer feminist, the voice of women education and social rights activist for women throughout her entire life.
Through her books Matichur, Oborodhbasini, Sultana's Dream and Padmarag as a literateur, she depicted that women should have access to education and other social rights as equal to their male counterparts for the betterment of society.
As a Muslim writer, she wrote regularly for reputed publications including Nabanoor, Saogat, Nawroz, Mahammadi, Mahila, Bangiya Musalman Sahitya Patrika, The Indian Ladies Magazine and other reputed journals.
The feminist ahead of her time, Begum Rokeya established the first school for girls in Kolkata, India for which she went from door to door to persuade parents and guardians to allow their daughters to attend the school, and ran the school until her death in 1932.
In 1916, she founded the Muslim Women's Association, an organisation that fought for women's education and employment. In 1926, Rokeya presided over the Bengal Women's Education Conference convened in Kolkata, the first significant attempt to bring women together in support of women's education rights.
In honour to the greatest Muslim feminist woman, several establishments are named in the country after Begum Rokeya including the Begum Rokeya Memorial Center, an academic and cultural hub in Pairaband, Rangpur; Rokeya Shoroni, a road in Dhaka, Begum Rokeya University, a public state university in Rangpur and Rokeya Hall, the largest female residential hall of the University of Dhaka.
In 2004, Rokeya was ranked number 6 in BBC's poll of the Greatest Bengali of all time.