Vol. 4 Num 213 Wed. December 31, 2003  
Front Page

Eminent HR activist Barrister Salma Sobhan passes away

Barrister Salma Sobhan, a lawyer, social worker and human-rights activist, died of a cardiac arrest at her Gulshan residence in the early hours of yesterday. She was 66.

Salma, wife of Professor Rehman Sobhan, an economist and former advisor of the caretaker government, fell sick while reading a book in her room at around 1:00am. She was rushed to Sikder Women's Medical College and Hospital at Dhanmondi, but doctors declared her dead on arrival.

Salma Rasheeda Akhtar Banu, known as Salma Sobhan, was born on August 11, 1937. Her father Md. Ikramullah was the first foreign secretary of Pakistan and mother Begum Shaista Ikramullah, one of the first women lawmakers in Pakistan, served as Pakistan ambassador to Morocco.

Salma was educated at Westonbirt School in England and studied law at Girton College, Cambridge, in 1958. She was called to the Bar from Lincoln's Inn in 1959 and became one of Pakistan's first women barristers.

She started her career as a legal assistant with M/S Surridge & Beecheno from 1959 to 1961 in Karachi. She came to Dhaka after her marriage with Prof Sobhan in 1962.

Salma taught law at Dhaka University from 1962 to 1981. She lost her eldest son Taimur in an accident in 1981.

She worked with Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (Bilia) from 1981 to 1988, and served as editor of the Supreme Court Law Reports (SCLR) for several years.

In 1982, she co-founded the human rights organisation, Ain-O-Salish Kendra (ASK), and was its first executive director until her retirement in 2001.

Salma also helped establish Bangladesh Legal Aid and Services Trust (Blast) and Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (Brac).

She was on the boards of many organisations working on human rights and social justice including Brac, Blast, Bilia, the international network Women Living under Muslim Laws and UNRISD, Geneva.

In 2001, Salma was honoured by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights in New York for her contribution to protecting human rights.

Her major publications are Legal Status of Women in Bangladesh, 1975, Peasants Perception of Law, 1981 and No Better Option-Women Industrial Workers (co-authored), 1988.

"She was a wonderfully warm person, with a great sense of humour," said Dr Hamida Hossain of ASK. "She had a lot of friends all over the world and used to spend time mailing to them. She was very keen in swimming and loved sight-seeing," she added.

"This sitar enthusiast woman had keen interest in politics, but had no desire to be a politician," said Val Arnold-Forster, a journalist and a family friend who knew her since 1947.

Salma left behind her husband Prof Sobhan, sons Babar and Zafar, brother Enam and sisters Naz and Sarvath.

Her namaz-e-janaza will be held at Gulshan Central Mosque today after Zohr prayers.

Qulkhwani for Salma will be held at her Gulshan residence on January 2 after Asr prayers.

Prime Minister Khaleda Zia, Leader of the Opposition Sheikh Hasina expressed deep shock at the death of Salma Sobhan.

Brac, Odhikar, Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha, Karmajibi Nari, Nagarik Uddog, ASK also mourned.

Salma Sobhan