During those days women in the Indian subcontinent, especially Muslim, did not have a voice in the public arena. They were guided by superstitions and expected to remain within the confines of their home. Dr. Zohra Kazi's years of experience in the Dhaka Medical College & Hospital (DMCH) had a profound impact on her. She was shocked and disturbed at the plight of female patients who suffered in silence as they were shy and not accustomed to seeking outdoor medical assistance in male dominated hospitals.
Mortality rate amongst female patients was extremely high during that time. To mitigate their sufferings the 'Lady Doctor', as she was known, often went door to door and motivated them to leave behind age old superstitions and encouraged them to come out of their house to seek medical treatment and assistance to save both mother and child which eventually yielded positive response from the long neglected women folk of the then backward society.
It was very difficult for a female doctor to go from place to place to visit the patients’ houses, but she did not hesitate to do so even at night. She fought against illogical superstitions and convinced female patients on the need for modern medical treatment.
"Duty first, duty last, and duty always" was her famous line to all her students.
Her years at DMCH were an eye opener. Here she realised the plight of women patients who were ignorant of allopathic medicine and treatment and often succumbed to their ailments. Reluctant to seek outdoor medical assistance in male dominated hospitals, many took their last breath. To help out these suffering women, Zohra often used to visit them in their homes and persuade them to cast away their taboos and superstitions.
Doctor Zohra ushered the way for modern medical treatment, particularly for these Muslim women. Through her teaching, she paved the way to progress for the subjugated women of the then British Raj. Doctor Zohra Begum Kazi, a Bengali woman, not only provided medical treatment but was also responsible for inspiring a social revolution.
She was a pioneer in women education and emancipation and played a pivotal role in imparting education to women folk in Medical Science which substantially increased the number of enrollment of girl students in MBBS course.
Dr. Zohra Kazi demonstrated her love for her country and to establish justice by actively participating in Bhasha Andolon (Language Movement) of 1952 and the Swadhinata Juddho (Liberation War) in 1971. She organised emergency treatment for the wounded students during Ekushey February (21st February) 1952 and sought out and provided medical attention to wounded Muktijuddhas (Freedom Fighters) during the Liberation War in 1971.
Up until 1969 Dr. Zohra Kazi remained as Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at DMCH. Following independence of Bangladesh both Dr. Zohra Kazi and sister Dr. Shirin Kazi responded to the call of the country as they became the first and second Muslim lady physicians of Bangladesh respectively. Dr. Zohra Kazi had many opportunities to work in different areas within the healthcare field and adorned many prominent posts in Dhaka. On her retirement from DMCH in 1973, she served as a Senior Consultant to the Holy Family Red Crescent Hospital and as a Honorary Consultant of Aarogya Niketon Clinic and Hospital. She was also a Honorary Lieutenant Colonel when attending patients at the Combined Medical Hospital (CMH) of the Bangladesh Armed Forces of Dhaka Cantonment, and taught as a Honorary Professor of Holy Family Hospital, Bangladesh Medical College and other major hospitals.
Dr. Zohra Kazi also had good relations with many notable Bengalis including 'Sher-e-Bangla' A. K. Fazlul Huq, Maulana Bhashani and 'Bangabandhu' Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. She had even been the house physician of Sheikh Mujib's family once.
Throughout her life, she took an active interest in the wellbeing of all her patients and the children she delivered.
During her lifetime, Dr. Zohra Kazi received several distinctions and acknowledgements for her contributions, both medical and philanthropic, to society. In 1964 the then Government of Pakistan awarded Dr. Zohra Kazi with "Taghma-e-Pakistan" (Medal of Excellence), the fourth highest state honour of Pakistan, for her contribution in the healthcare field. The National Museum, Gynecology Society, Nagorik Shambardhana Parishad, Rotaract Club of Buriganga, Aligarh Old Boys Association and Madaripur District Association also accorded her receptions.
In 2002, the Government of Bangladesh awarded Dr. Zohra Kazi with the "Begum Rokeya Padak", named after another Bengali female stalwart Begum Roquia Sakhawat Hussain (popularly known as Begum Rokeya). The award is given each year to women who have struggled hard to contribute to the betterment of women.
On February 2008, when Bangladesh was under a Caretaker Government led by chief adviser Fakhruddin Ahmed, Dr. Zohra Kazi and eight other eminent Bengali personalities were awarded the prestigious Ekushey Padak for outstanding contribution in their respective fields. Four of the winners - Dr. Nazma Chowdhury (research), Khandaker Nurul Alam, Dr. Muzaffer Ahmad (education) and poet Dilwar Khan (literature) - were still alive and collected their award whilst Dr. Kazi and four others - Waheedul Huq, Shyamsundar Baishnab, Shefali Ghosh (music), Khaleque Nawaz Khan (Language Movement) - were given the award posthumously. Her nephew Kazi Abdus Sattar collected the award on her behalf from the award ceremony held at Osmani Memorial Hall, Dhaka.
Dr. Zohra Kazi was also awarded "BMA Gold Medal" by the Bangladesh Medical Association (BMA) in recognition of her outstanding contribution to humanity and medicine.
Dr. Zohra Begum Kazi was a dedicated physician who attained the highest degree of professional excellence. She was honest, sincere, devoted and very punctual to her sacred duties. Her philosophy was "humane behavior, benevolent approach, patience, friendly caring, devotion and dedicated service to mankind" which she professed, taught and maintained throughout her long professional life.
On 7 November 2007 Prof Dr. Zohra Begum Kazi passed away from old-age complications in Gulshan, Dhaka. She was 95 years old (though she claimed to be 100). She was buried at Banani graveyard after a namaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer) at Gulshan Azad mosque.
A social reformer like Dr. Zohra Begum Kazi may not come often. She came like a ray of light to enlighten the backward Bengali nation in those dark days. By dint of her selfless devotion, and dedication and relentless effort she reached the pinnacle of her profession.
She never ran after wealth, name and fame. She used to say to her medical pupils: "Don't run after money, money will run after you, and be sincere to your noble profession".
She will be remembered by the nation for her unforgettable contribution. For her selfless and dedicated service to humanity she ought to have been called the "Florence Nightingale" of Bangladesh.
May Almighty Allah grant her eternal peace.
Mohammad Murad Latif, Teacher and social activist
During our time, we always kept in our mind that "sebai manab dharma". There were few private practitioners. We used to treat patients attentively in the hospital. At present, I see that almost all the physicians are busy with private practice. They may have forgotten that to serve people is supreme.
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