About Us / History
**Begum Rokeya was born in 1880 in the village of Pairabondh,Mithapukur, Rangpur, in what was then the British Indian Empire and is now Bangladesh. Her father, Jahiruddin Muhammad Abu Ali Haidar Saber, was a highly educated zamindar (landlord). Rokeya had two sisters, Karimunnesa Khatun and Humayra Khatun; and three brothers, one of whom died in childhood.** Rokeya''s eldest brother Ibrahim, and her immediate elder sister Karimunnesa, both had great influence on her life. Karimunnesa wanted to study Bengali, the language of the majority in Bengal. The family disliked this because many upper class Muslims of the time preferred to use Arabic and Persian as the media of education, instead of their native language, Bengali. Ibrahim taught English and Bengali to Rokeya and Karimunnesa; both sisters became authors. Karimunnesa married at the age of fourteen, later earning a\r\nreputation as a poet. Both of her sons, Nawab Abdul Karim Gaznawi and Nawab Abdul Halim Gaznawi, became famous in the political arena and occupied ministerial portfolios under British authorities. Rokeya married at the age of sixteen in 1896. Her Urdu-speaking husband, Khan Bahadur Sakhawat Hussain, was the Deputy Magistrate\r\nof Bhagalpur, which is now a district under the\r\nIndian state of Bihar. He continued her brother''s work by encouraging her to keep learning Bengali and English. He also suggested that she write, and on his advice she adopted Bengali as the principal language for her literary works because it was the language of the masses. She launched her literary career in 1902 with a Bengali essay entitled Pipasa (Thirst).In 1909, Sakhawat Hussain died. He had encouraged his wife to set aside money to start a school primarily for Muslim women. Five months after his death, Rokeya established a high school in her beloved husband''s\r\nmemory, naming it Sakhawat Memorial Girls'' High School. It started in Bhagalpur, a traditionally Urdu-speaking area, with only five students. A dispute with her husband''s\r\nfamily over property forced Rokeya to move the school in 1911 to Calcutta (now known as Kolkata), a Bengali-speaking area. It remains one of the city' most popular schools for girls and is now run by the state government of West Bengal.