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     Volume 9 Issue 9 | February 26, 2010|

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Special Feature

His-story vs Her-story

Audity Falguni

Does history narrate only ‘his-story’? One Joan of Arc in the west or Sultana Razia in the east...too insignificant in number they are in comparison to the millions of great male heroes since the heroic ages of Homer. Except the legendary mention of the ‘Amazons’ or ‘warrior women’, women's role has been confined to mere reproduction and household chores over the centuries.

Historically, Bangladeshi women, mostly Bengali in ethnic identity and Muslim in their faith, have possessed very little space in outer world. It is only after the partition in 1947 that a comparatively larger number of young Bengali Muslim women began getting enrolled into the universities for higher education. As we know the then East Pakistan had to undergo a series of political dissentions and struggles with the West Pakistan soon after its inception. The entire process commenced with the Dhaka University students' protests to Jinnah's declaration of Urdu as the sole state language of Pakistan in 1948. This conceptual protest ultimately led to death of four students on 21st February in 1952 claiming Bengali to be one of the state languages besides Urdu. Generally, all of us know the names of four great language martyrs namely Salam, Barkat, Rafiq and Zabbar. There are other ‘language soldiers’ like Bhasa Matin and others still living among us. But, how much we know about the active political involvement of women in the then East Pakistan to vehemently protest the unjust West Pakistani decision? Here are brief sketches of six women who took active participation in the 1952 language movement.

Rawshan Ara Bachchu
Pratibha Mutsuddi

Noted intellectual and author Badruddin Umar, in his scholarly book Purba Banglar Bhasa Andolan o Tatkalin Rajniti (The Language Movement of East Pakistan and the Contemporary Politics) provides us with a succinct tale of women's participation in the movement. According to Umar, with frequent arrests, police harassment and detention of Bangalis, an overall disquieting situation prevailed in then East Pakistan before the language movement attained its highest peak in 1952. The use of English and Urdu and exclusion of Bengali as the language in money-order forms, envelope stamps and money was a great provocation to the educated Bengali middle-class. To protest this government stance, the students of Dhaka University formed ‘Sarba Daliya Rashtro Bhasa Sangram Parisad (All Party State Language Movement Council)’ on October 1947. Abdur Rab Nishtar, the then Minister of Communication visited Sylhet on January 11 of 1947. A women's delegation then met the minister and placed their demands for making Bengali as one of the state languages in Pakistan. Begum Zobeda Khatun Chowdhury, Syeda Shahera Banu and Syed Lutfunnessa Khatun of Sylhet Muslim Mohila (Women's) League and head mistress of Sylhet Royal Girls' School Rabeya Khatun and others signed a memorandum demanding Bengali as one of the state languages and later sent this to Khaja Nazimuddin, the Chief Minister of East Pakistan. The pro-government local Sylheti newspaper Daily Eastern Herald condemned Zobeda Khatun for taking such an initiative. Supporting Zobeda, another women leader Nazibunnessa said, “Those who being Bengali speaking people of East Pakistan oppose their own mother tongue, are nothing but the traitor son of a mother.”

It was women who first defied the curfew under section 144, tore off the police barricade and assembled under the mango tree in the Dhaka University campus premises to join the movement. There were a number of women including Dr Halima Khatun, Dr Sufia Khatun, Rawshan Ara Bachchu, Sufia Ibrahim, Fazilatunnessa, Zulekha, Nuri, Sara Taifur and others among them. Most of the women were, however, schoolgirls. Police charged batons brutally and around eight schoolgirls such as Sufia Ibrahim, Rawshan Ara Bachchu and others got injured. A good number of female students, in addition, were arrested upon this day. This momentum has been well engraved in the acclaimed novel Aar Ek Phalgun (Another Spring) by reputed filmmaker and author Zahir Raihan. Noted intellectual and author Badruddin Umar, in his scholarly book Purba Banglar Bhasa Andolan o Tatkalin Rajniti (The Language Movement of East Pakistan and the Contemporary Politics) provides us with a succinct tale of women’s participation in the movement.

Sofia Khan Dr Halima Khatun

It is further known from accounts of Badruddin Umar that people in Narayanganj severely protested the arrest of Mamtaj Begum. They created road barricades by cutting hundreds of trees over few miles to obstruct police from arresting and taking her away. Later the government proposed to this fiery female teacher to sign a bond in exchange of her freedom but she refused. On her refusal, her husband divorced her and even did not allow her daughter to live with her. Mamtaj Begum was also terminated from her school as the school was pro-government. Later she joined another school but could not survive colleague politics and conspiracy for long. She died all alone after many days of hardship, starvation, abandonment and social exclusion as a 'bad woman who had dared to go even to prison and been forsaken by her husband.' Shabnam Ferdousi, a young and talented documentary filmmaker, has interviewed the late female language soldier's daughter in her moving documentary Bhasa Joyeeta. The documentary tells the tales of women who participated in the language movement.

Women took part in demonstration in Narayanganj township whereupon the head mistress of Narayanganj Morgan Girls' School Mamtaj Begum was arrested.

Now, is not Mamtaj Begum a ‘language martyr’ although she was not shot dead by police guns? But she was nevertheless 'killed' by the suffocating shackles of a patriarchal family, society and existing system of establishment? In today’s Dhaka nowhere can we find a single portrait or photograph of Mamtaj Begum. Thus, history becomes’ his-story' excluding ‘her tale.’

Rani Bhattachariya
Sufia Ahmed


Rawshan Ara Bachchu
Rawshan Ara Bachchu joined Gonotantrik Pragotishil Chhatra Front (Democratic Progressive Student Front) in 1950 to protest the stifling education policy of the then Pakistan government and a hike in student fees in the University. She was elected as member in both the Women Students Residence Hall and Salimullah Muslim Hall elections. She strongly argued in favour of women's participation in politics in a radio programme on April 1950. She took part in the meeting held in Amtola, Dhaka University on 30 January 1952 to protest Khaja Najimuddin's declaration to make Urdu the sole language of Pakistan on 27 January. After the Pakistan government's declaration on 20 February 1952 to hold any sort of strike, meeting or procession on the coming February 21 to be forbidden, the Dhaka University students assembled under Amtola of the DU Campus and decided to break Section 144 and defy the curfew. Rawshan Ara Bachchu took part in the first group to break the police cordon and she was injured in process.

Pratibha Mutsuddi
Pratibha was a schoolgirl in early '50s. Being a student of the Mahamuni Anglo Pali Institution, Pratibha joined the Students' Federation at her school life. She was admitted into Chittagong College in 1951. She joined the demonstrations held in Chittagong city protesting the firing on students in Dhaka in 1952. She was admitted into Dhaka University after the election of Jukta (United) Front in 1954. Section 144 was enforced ont February 21 of 1955. Some female students of Mittford and Medical College were arrested on this day. Pratibha then organised a number of female students' from the then Women's Hall of DU (today's Rokeya hall) and assembled under Amtola of DU. Police charged batons and arrested them. First they were sent to Lalbagh thana and later to the Dhaka Central prison. After two weeks' long detention, Pratibha was released.

Sofia Khan
Born in Ghatail of Tangail in 1928, Sofia was admitted into Dhaka University as a student of Bengali literature in 1948. She joined Students' Federation and was involved in mobilising female students of Muslim Girls' School, Quamrunnessa School, Banglabazar Girls' School and Eden College in the Language movement. She is one of the survivors of police brutality on February 21, 1952 as she was one of those women to break police curfew in the Dhaka University campus.

Dr Halima Khatun
Dr Halima Khatun was assigned with the responsibility to mobilise female students from Mulsim Girls' School and Bangla Bazar Girls' School and bring them in the DU Campus to break the section 144. She survived the tear gas and baton charge of police on this fateful day.

Rani Bhattachariya
Born on December 31 in 1927 in Barisal, Rani Bhattacharya joined a girls' school namely Barisal Jagadish Saraswat School as an assistant teacher in 1951. She joined the Language movement in the same year. On February 21 of 1952, Rani Bhattacharya and her fellow colleague Manjushree Sen organised female students and other teachers of the school and took part in forefront of the demonstration held in Barisal. Later Rani completed a 42-years' career as a teacher and she has been on retirement since 1992. She has been awarded with a number of prestigious awards such as Ekushe Padak and Rokeya Padak and she has been acting President of Barisal Mohila Parisad since 1987.

Sufia Ahmed
Daughter of Justice Ibrahim Ahmed, Sufia Ahmed was inspired by her progressive father to love and respect the mother tongue and support the Language Movement. Sufia was a student of Barisal Brojamohan College in 1948 when Jinnah declared Urdu as the sole language of Pakistan. In 1950, Sufia came to Dhaka and got admitted into Dhaka University. She was one of those female forerunners to break section 144 and deny the curfew in DU Campus on February 21, 1952. She is one of the survivors of police brutality including baton charge and tear gas. On November 1952, Sufia travelled to Turkey as one of the 10-member cultural delegation. There she offered songs in Bengali ignoring the opposition of the West Pakistani members of the team to render songs or poetry in Bengali.


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