A short focus on life and deeds of poet Sufia Kamal (1911-1999)
Published: 12:41 AM, 20 June 2020 Updated: 10:59 AM, 20 June 2020
Today is 20th June, the 110th birthday of poet Sufia Kamal. This year the day is being observed virtually out of all formalities, in the wake of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak across the country.
A pioneer in the movement for women emancipation, Sufia Kamal was born on June 20, 1911, in the Shayestabad Nawab family in Barishal.
During her childhood, women’s education was prohibited and she could not afford to get academic education. Nevertheless, she learned Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, and Arabic languages at home.
In 1918, she went to Kolkata with her mother where she came to meet with Begum Rokeya.
She was first married at the age of 11 to her cousin Syed Nehal Hossain who was a law student. They had a daughter named Amena Kahar. Nehal Hossain Hossain died in 1932. Five years later, Sufia married Kamaluddin Ahmed.
Kamal later had two other daughters, Sultana Kamal and Saida Kamal, and two sons Shahed Kamal and Sajed Kamal.
In 1925, Sufia Kamal met Mahatma Gandhi, who inspired her to wear simple clothing.
Kamal’s first poem, Bashanti (Of Spring), was published in Saogat magazine in 1926. In 1931, she became the first Bengali Muslim female to be a member of the Indian Women Federation.
A short story Shainik Bodhu which Kamal wrote was published in a local paper in 1923.
In 1937, she published her first collection of short stories, Keyar Kanta (Thorns of the Keya Tree).
Her literary career took off after her first poetry publication. Her first book of poems, Sanjher Maya (Evening Enchantment), came out in 1938, bearing a foreword from Kazi Nazrul Islam and attracting praise from Rabindranath Tagore.
In 1947, Kamal became the founding editor of the Begum, a weekly magazine specialized on women’s issues which was published by Mohammad Nasiruddin.
In October of that year after the partition of India she came to Dhaka. During a huge clash between Hindu and Muslim of that time Kamal worked for their friendship and joined in peace committee.
In 1948, when Purbo Pakistan Mohila Committee formed, she became its chairman.
Kamal’s activism continued in 1952, with the Language Movement. In 1961, when the Pakistani government banned Rabindra Sangeet (Songs of Rabindranath Tagore), she became involved in the movement among Bengalis that ensued in 1961.
During the mass uprising in 1969, which demanded the resignation of Pakistani military general Ayub Khan, she promoted the cause by forming Mohila Sangram Parishad (Women’s Struggle Group).
In later life, she made women’s rights her top priority and headed Bangladesh’s largest women’s organization, Mahila Parishad, for many years.
She did not see the oppression of women as solely a class issue. She was also the first Chairperson of BRAC (1972–1980).
Kamal was instrumental in getting the first women’s dormitory of Dhaka University to be named Rokeya Hall, after Begum Rokeya.
She died in 1999 and was the first woman to be given a state funeral in Bangladesh.