Begum Rokeya and SUS are today highly respected in Netrakona, Bangladesh. Photo: Maj-Lis Koivisto
Wagged a finger at narrowminded society
|My joyful childhood was ended abruptly. I cannot clearly recall that period of my life any more. It is suppressed in my subconscious mind. I only remember an intolerable, inexpressible feeling of living in torture. Marriage held a promise of some kind of satisfaction. Not for me; I lived under abnormal oppression.|
|I still shudder in fear thinking about that intolerable environment. I became a victim. I was a minor. At just 13 years of age I was married off to lessen the burden on my family due to my father’s severe illness. Our society compels the girl after marriage to adjust to a different family life, household, husband, father-in-law and mother-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law.
No-one questions whether this newly-married immature and ignorant girl both physically and mentally is unfittingly placed in a totally new environment. To make things worse, bearing a child at a minor age, should the child be a girl instead of a son, the situation becomes so much worse. Only those who have suffered can understand. Added to this, when the girl’s family cannot pay enough dowry – everybody can understand how bad that can get for the girl! For six and half years I had to deal with all of this. Even after this I have carried on trying to adjust and tolerate. Even though I became a mother at an immature age I have tried my best to fulfill my motherly duties whilst living a hard life without any love.
I finally wagged my finger at my narrow-minded society and culture. I can’t explain how I took this brave step to come out. But as a human being, with my existence hampered, being discriminated and living with humiliation and oppression, a strong urge to oppose took root deeply in my mind. That urge of inexpressible eagerness led to my triumph: standing on my own two feet, to discover myself as a human being. I had to ignore much social pressure from those around me during this time.
Today, I recall that moment when I returned to my father and asked him for shelter and refused to go back to my husband ever again. In a case of a Muslim divorce like mine, the father had the right to the children. So I was unable to see my first daughter for eight years as she was taken away from me due to the divorce. During that time I was carrying my second daughter who was born three months later. She was my strength, a source of love and whom I leaned on. I was very sad as my younger daughter did not get any love and company from her father. I don’t know from where and how I got the power to survive against all odds.
Having this power in my mind I started a long and unknown journey. I had to spend a long time with this journey and fight against different social stigma. To be able to face these obstacles at first I started my race with studies, which made me independent. I felt that it would be my first task to educate myself and to build the capability to face the patriarchic society.
To become competent, I did not get any chance of going regularly to a normal school. But as an alternative, I had to do self-studies at home and appeared in the examinations as a private candidate. At that time I received boundless love and financial support from my seriously ill father, who inspired me to win this war. At the same time two teachers from my previous school, late Nripendra Chakraborty and late Nogendra Chandra Paul, helped me to take the step to restart my studies.
After qualifying for the Secondary School Certificate examination, the headmistress of Netrakona Girls High school (in 1970 this school received approval as a government girls high school) and late Mrs Jahanara Begum and late Mr Golam Akbor, president of the governing school body, supported me so I could continue. I became an assistant teacher at my school where I had studied only six years before. My independent mind made me courageous to have new dreams for the future.
Beside my job I continued my studies and completed my graduation degree. That time, age was not an obstacle for proceeding onwards. The insufficiency of my limited knowledge did not create any obstruction in thinking of development for deprived women like me. My whole mind and soul became so impatient to work for the removal of the helplessness of women who surrounded me at every moment.
These historical snapshots commemorate 30 years of SUS