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Nurjahan Begum no more


Nurjahan BegumA lifetime of work dedicated to the emancipation of Bangalee Muslim women, came to an end yesterday as the editor and publisher of the Begum magazine, nonagenarian Nurjahan Begum, breathed her last.

A pioneer of women in journalism, Nurjahan had created a space for women writers and journalists in the first illustrated Bangla magazine for women, by breaking the shackles of strictly conservative Bangalee Muslim society of the 1940’s.

Born in Chalitatali of Chandpur on June 4, 1925, Nurjahan, at the age of four, moved to Kolkakta, where her father, renowned journalist and editor of the monthly Saogat, Mohammad Nasiruddin worked. She was initially admitted into Baby Class at Begum Rokeya’s Sakhawat Memorial School.

Later she was moved to Beltola Girl’s School, but in Class-V, she returned to Sakhawat Memorial School from which she passed her Matriculation in 1942.

In 1944, she passed her Intermediate examinations in philosophy, history and geography, and, in 1946, her Bachelors in ethics, philosophy and history from Lady Brabourne College.

As she was growing up, Nurjahan worked with her father at Saogat’s office, getting hands-on training in journalism. On July 20, 1947, when Nasiruddin started the first illustrated weekly for women in Bengal, Begum magazine, Nurjahan became its acting editor at the age of 23 and poet Begum Sufia Kamal became its editor.

Five hundred copies of Begum, costing 25 paisa each, were printed with pioneer female educationist Begum Rokeya Shakhawat Hossain’s picture on the cover. Four months later, Nurjahan took helm of the magazine as its editor and she remained so till her last breath yesterday.

To encourage women to write, the initial issues of Begum tried to make space for all female writers who mostly used to send poems, stories and contents on cooking and sewing. The writings would come from remote parts of the country and often required heavy editing, yet Begum made it a point to treat them with care and respect.

After three years in Kolkata, Begum moved to Dhaka, and so did Nasiruddin and his family, who settled in Narinda’s Saratgupta Lane in Old Dhaka. Begum found its office at Old Dhaka’s Patuatuli Street.

In 1954, the Begum Club was established at the magazine’s office in Old Dhaka. Women writers, educationists, social workers would gather at the club and discuss social issues. The club, which ran actively until 1970, became the hub of cultural and social activities for Bangalee women in the 1950’s and helped in the creation of many women writers.

Besides her journalistic career, Nurjahan was also a dedicated social worker. From volunteering at refugee camps during the communal riots to working for the Muslim Orphanage and Women’s Home in Kolkata of which she was the secretary.

She had become involved in social work soon after finishing college.

Later, she became member and president of various women’s organisations, including the Wari Mohila Samity and the Narinda Mohila Samity.

Besides, numerous awards from different cultural and social organisations, in 1997, Nurjahan received the prestigious Rokeya Padak from and Ekushey Padak in 2011 from the Bangladesh government.

In 1952, Nurjahan got married to Rokunuzzaman Khan, more widely known as Dadabhai, who headed Bangla newspaper Ittefaq’s literary, feature and children’s page and later founded the children’s organisation Kochikancher Mela.

Dadabhai died in 1999 at the age of 74.

Despite her busy work and social life, Nurjahan ensured proper grooming of her two daughters Flora Nasreen Khan and Rina Yasmin Ahmed.

“My mother not only looked after our education, she also taught us to sing and dance,” said her eldest daughter Flora, who had been working for the magazine since her school days and did most of the editing and related work after Nurjahan eventually lost her eyesight following a surgery 15 years ago.

“She still gave decisions on contents, about advertising and communicated with the writers over phone,” said Flora.

Monthly Begum now costs Tk 10.

Terming Begum as her mother’s soul, Flora said she along with her younger sister would continue to uphold their family legacy.

“It was started by my grandfather and we will carry on the work … ,” she said, adding that her mother had given Flora instruction to take the responsibility of Begum as its editor in her absence.

The pioneer woman journalist breathed her last yesterday morning at 10:15am at the capital’s Square Hospitals. She was admitted to the hospital with respiratory problems on May 4 and was on life support since May 7.

The body of the revered journalist was taken to her home “Mohammad Nasiruddin Smrity Bhaban” in Old Dhaka’s Narinda, where Nurjahan’s namaj-e-janaza was held after zohr prayers.

Later, her coffin was taken to the Central Shaheed Minar where journalists, writers, politicians gathered to pay tribute to the champion of women’s rights.

President Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Finance Minister AMA Muhith and BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia expressed condolences at Nurjahan Begum’s death.

In separate messages, they conveyed deep sympathy to the bereaved family members and prayed for eternal peace of the departed soul.

Nurjahan was laid to her final rest at the martyr’s graveyard in Mirpur, after another janaza held at the Gulshan Azad Mosque after the maghrib prayers.

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