Tuesday 27, September 2022

Bangladesh's first female journalist trailblazer in South Asia

News Desk: In the tumultuous times of the 1940s, when women, particularly belonging to conservative Muslim families, were mostly absent in the public sphere, weekly magazine Begum emerged to give them a voice of their own. Established by renowned journalist and Saogat editor Mohammad Nasiruddin, in 1947, the weekly was run by her daughter Nurjahan.

And thus, the girl who started hands on training on journalism by assisting her father at Saogat's office, went on to become the first female journalist of the country, and a pioneer of female journalism in South Asia.

On her sixth death anniversary, Nurjahan Begum's granddaughter Priota Iftekhar remembered her with great fondness.

"Nanu's mementoes have always given me strength and courage in the toughest of times. I'm trying to preserve her awards, clothes and Begum's old copies in my residence as best as I can," said Priota.

However, no collective effort is in action to preserve her memories. Most of her belongings were given to National Museum for security reasons, who failed to keep them on display due to lack of space.

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

Begum's first issue was published on July 20, 1947. For the first four months, Nurjahan, who had already gathered relevant experience in journalism by working with her father, worked as the acting editor of the magazine helping the editor poet Begum Sufia Kamal. Four months later, she took helm of the magazine as its editor and she remained so till her last breath in 2016.

Nurjahan collected articles from women living in the most remote areas of the country. It was a weekly for the women and by the women making space for issues that were their own and also those that they needed to be aware of.

This implied that more or less every piece required heavy editing. Nurjahan made sure that every piece was treated with due care and respect, and thus created a safe space for women to express their thoughts and ideas without the fear of judgement from a male dominated industry.

Bur Nurjahan's works did not just stop at that. She was a dedicated social worker who volunteered at refugee camps during the communal riots and worked for the Muslim Orphanage and Women's Home in Kolkata of which she was the secretary.

In 1954, she established Begum Club at the magazine's Old Dhaka office, where female writers, educationists, social workers used to gather and discuss social issues.

The club was active till 1970 and went on to became the hub of cultural and social activities for Bangalee women, creating many writers and thinkers.

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 passed away in 1999 at the age of 74.

At her Narinda residence in Old Dhaka, a signboard hangs identifying the establishment as "Mohammad Naisruddin Memorial Building", while two others belonging to two different organisations testify a feeble attempt to preserve the memories of Nurjahan and Dadabhai. However, none of them is currently active.

Priota Iftekhar said the family wants to preserve Nurjahan's memories so that the first female journalist of the country doesn't go to a collective oblivion and hoped that the government would come forward in this regard.


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