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         Volume 10 |Issue 24 | June 24, 2011 |


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An Indomitable Spirit

Tamanna Khan

On June 20, 2011 the nation celebrated the 100th birthday of the widely loved and respected poet Sufia Kamal. She was born on this day in the year 1911 at Rahat Manjil, belonging to the Shayestabad Nawab Family at Barisal. Although the poet prefix adorns her name, she had during her lifetime risen far above her litterateur identity and established herself in the forefront of all socio-economic cultural and political movements in Bangladesh. Breaking away from the strict traditions of the nawab family, even though she never received academic education, she started to write in Bengali in local magazines like 'Tarun' and later in the renowned magazine 'Shawgat'. Later in 1947, she became the first editor of "Begum" the first weekly magazine for Bengali Muslim women.

Sufia Kamal

She was the first Bengali Muslim woman to board a plane with a foreign male pilot, which at that time in 1928, was considered uncivil and impious. However, social pressure and condemnation did not stop her from breaking superstitious barriers that held women back in the confines of their abode. Always inspired by Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, Sufia Kamal started to take part in social activities as early as her teenage. The secular Sufia worked side by side with Sabitri Dutta at organisations that rehabilitated poor and oppressed women and children. She even dressed as a Hindu woman to present thread from a 'charka' (wheel) to Mahatma Gandhi at an open public gathering in Barisal. After Partition she worked with activists like Lila Roy, Juiful Roy and Ashalata Sen and together they formed "East Pakistan Mahila Samity" in 1948.

A woman who defied her maternal home's language Urdu and learned Bangla on her own accord, Sufia Kamal, was nonetheless shocked as the blow on Bangla came right after the birth of Pakistan. Besides, writing vehemently against the imposition of Urdu in different newspapers, she organised and led processions in the streets of Dhaka during the language movement. Her cultural affiliation did not limit her works rather she would gather and lead processions even for issues like price hike and democracy.

The founding member of the largest women's organisation of Bangladesh "Mahila Parishad", Sufia Kamal had been the chairperson and adviser of about 20 different organisations throughout Bangladesh, the notable ones being - Chayanaut, Kachikachar Ashar, Pratibandhi Foundation and Samaj Kalyan Sangstha. She achieved recognition both at national and international level receiving more than 40 awards including the Ekushey and Swadhinata Padak (the highest recognition award in Bangladesh). The revered social and cultural activist and poet breathed her last on November 20, 1999.

Sufia Kamal's birth centenary had been celebrated at national level. Different TV channels had aired special programmes. Cultural and social organisations had organised special event to commemorate the anniversary. Bengal Foundation held an art camp at the poet's house at Dhanmondi Road No. 32 at "Shajher Maya". The art works will be exhibited at Bengal Gallery from June 24 to June 28, 2011. Chayanaut organised a two-day programme on June 17 and 18 where Dr Sanjida Khatun read a memoir on Sufia Kamal followed by cultural programmes that included the poet's favourite songs by leading singers of the country. Bangladesh Mahila Parishad organised a memoir speech titled "Samaj Pragatir Andolan and Kobi Sufia Kamal" by Dr Ahmed Rafiq on June 20, which was followed by the "Kobi Sufia Kamal Shammamona Padak" prize ceremony and a cultural programme.


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