Begum Sufia Kamal

  • Born: 20 June 1911, Shaestabad in Barisal
  • Died: 20 November 1999, Dhaka (aged 88)
  • Profession: Bengali poet, litterateur, organizer, feminist and social activist
  • Recognition: Bangla Academy Award 1962 and Begum Rokeya Medal (1996). Known lovingly as 'Khalamma' (Aunt)
  • National contribution: Buried with full state honors, the first woman in Bangladesh to receive this honour.
  • Hasani? Didn't know that! First Bengali Muslim female member of Indian Women Federation (1931)
  • Work include: Mrttikar Ghran (The Fragrance of Earth)
    Ekattarer Diary (Diary of '71)
    Benibinyas Samay To Ar Nei (No More Time for Braiding Your Hair)
    Ekale Amader Kal (In This Time, Our Time)

Timeline of few major events in Begum Sufia Kamal's life

  • 1931 - Became the first Muslim woman to become a member of Indian Women's Federation
  • 1932 - Death of first husband
  • 1933 - Became a school teacher with the Calcutta Corporation
  • 1937 - First collection of stories published
  • 1938 - First anthology of poems, with the blessings of Tagore. Second marriage to freedom fighter Kamaluddin Khan and since then known as Sufia Kamal
  • 1946 - Ran a sanctuary at the Lady Brabourne College for the communal riot victims of Calcutta. Started a number of magazines
  • 1948 - Became chief of East Pakistan Women's Committee
  • 1950 - Led the Anti-communal Riots Committee during the 1950 Dhaka riots
  • 1951 - Established the East Pakistan Child Protection Society. Also took up the vice-chair of the National Literature Society
  • 1952 - Pioneer organiser during the February language movement
  • 1955 - Organised the first protest by housewives against rising food prices
  • 1960 - Became the chief of the Tagore Centenary Celebrations Committee
  • 1962 - Led the move to establish cultural organisations to propagate Tagore culture
  • 1965 - Was at the forefront of the anti-Ayub Khan movement, which turned into a mass uprising in 1969
  • 1969 - Became chairperson of the Women's Action Committee
  • 1970 - Chief of the Women's Committee
  • 1971 - Stayed away from all activities after the 1971 military crackdown and also refused to sign an endorsement of Pakistan and its armed actions despite threat to her life. After liberation, presided over the first public meeting at the Martyrs' Monument. Inaugurated the first television programme in independent Bangladesh.
  • 1977 - Husband Kamaluddin died
  • 1980 - Got actively involved in the anti-martial law movement and moved close to the Awami League. Became member of the committee to "Try the killers and Rapists of 1971"
  • 1990 - Was at the forefront of the anti-Ershad/martial law agitation, even leading a procession when a curfew was on

Early life

Lawyer father becomes sufi and leaves home

Sufia Kamal was born in Barisal, the southern district of what is now Bangladesh, then part of India under British rule. Barisal has a reputation for giving birth to accomplished Bengalis. Amongst the renowned and admired personalities are Sher-e-Bangla A. K. Fazlul Haque, poet Jibonanda Das, and Bir Srestho Shaheed Captain Mohiuddin Jahangir.

Sufia was the second child and only daughter of Syed Abdul Bari, an eminent lawyer, and Sabera Banu Her family was a zamindar (landowning) family. But unlike other families in the aristocrat Muslim gentry, Sufia Kamal's family was quite well educated and many of its members were successful professional people in administration, legal affairs and bureaucracy. Sufia saw little of her father. When she was only 7 months old and her elder brother was aged 3-and-half years her dad left the family, never to come back again. He bacame a Sufi (a Muslim saint) and left home in search of Allah. Sufia's young mother had to go back to her parent's home in Shaistabad with two little children as she had no other alternative


Lack of opportunities for female education

Sufia Kamal grew up in a time when education, schooling, and reading was seen as 'not a women's thing to do'. This privilege was mainly restricted to male. The battle for greater female education was taken up by forward-thinking Bengali female such as Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (popularly known as Begum Rokeya). However, women's education was still restricted and viewed as unimportant by society at large.

Thankfully for Sufia her maternal extended family lived at a palatial house with a very rich library. It was here in her mama (maternal uncle) Syed Mohammad Hossain's library that Sufia educated herself with her mother's encouragement

The extended family lived at a palatial house with a very rich library. But education, schooling, and reading - all was carried out in the male's domain. Even learning anything other than religious texts was considered immoral for the girls. There, however, were winds of change blowing, especially after Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain embarked on a mission to open the doors of education for Muslim girls. But that opportunity was confined to the large urban areas; in greater part of rural Bengal female education especially for Muslims was like the forbidden fruit.


As a child Sufia attended a Maktab, a mosque-based religious learning center where one can learn to read the Arabic scripture without knowing its meaning. However, after a brief spell, she was forced to discontinue as she was considered to have grown up Whilst the boys of the family went to the district town to get admitted to high schools, the girls remained within the confines of the palatial building till their marriage was settled.

Thus, in accordance with aristocratic social practice of the time, Begum Sufia Kamal was given education at home. With the house tutor, she had lessons in Urdu, Arabic and Persian,_Begum_Sufia.

Encouraged by her mother, who taught her how to read and write Bengali, and her mama, Sufia quickly developed a passion for literature and learning.

From my uncle, I used to get information about the world outside. At night after saying prayers, all the aunts used to sit around him and he would read aloud from Bengali novels. He also knew Sanskrit quite well. He used to render in Bengali translation the stories from Sanskrit classics like Agni Vamsa, Meghdut, Rajtarangini etc. I was a little child at that time, but I still carry in my heart the pleasant sound of his reading. He also used to recite English, Bengali, Arabic, Persian and Urdu poems. He used to subscribe to various journals and I remember the horror story of 'Bunip' that was published in Bombay Chronicle which scared me to death.

Sufia Kamal,

The culture was to keep the women at home, train them in household chores and make them perfect women: docile, ready to please everyone in the family. 'There was a strong anti-British movement, and my family also believed that women should stay out of it.

But I had an indomitable nature and I crossed my limits to get a taste of all there was. I was allowed to learn Arabic and a little Persian, but not Bengali. I made it a point to learn Bengali from people working in the house.

Sufia Kamal [That became the language she used for her writing],

Even within the four walls, denied of all opportunities, Sufia Kamal as a child could feel the resonance of a greater world of art and literature.

Sufia Kamal was taught to read and write Bengali by her mother. This opened a new world to her and the family library proved to be a treasure trove where she could spend considerable time. Whatever little learning all these highly disorganized, non-formal methods offered; Sufia Kamal took full advantage of those.

Mofidul Hoque,

The young Sufia was much interested in education, but had to be content with learning Urdu, and taking secret lessons in Bangla from her mother.

But she was so adamant about going to school, something which girls from her background were not allowed to back then, that at one point she was being dressed up as a boy to attend classes. By then, she had become proficient in Urdu, Bangla, Arabic and English.


Met Begum Rokeya aged 7

In 1918, when Sufia was only 7 years old, she went to Kolkata accompanied by her mother,_Begum_Sufia. There she met Begum Roquiah Sakhawat Hossain. This brief encounter would have profound effect on little Sufia and that inspiration would shape her future course.

Sufia Kamal was born on 20 June 1911 to Shayestabad's nawab family in Barisal. Although raised within strict purdah, that denied her of academic education, she was self-educated in Bengali, the ostracised language of the nawabs, with the encouragement of her mother, brother and a maternal uncle. While stealing into the literary works of Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, Begum Sara Taifur and Begum Motahera Banu, at the safe haven under the beds of the nawab palace, the young Sufia aspired to be a writer herself.



Marry maternal cousin at the age of 12

At the age of 12 Sufia Kamal married her maternal cousin Syed Nehal Hossain, a young law student and an aspiring writer associated with a literary journal.

After marriage, Sufia left her nana'r bari of Shaistabad and settled in Barisal town. The town offered young Sufia her first real opportunity to come out of home as long as she was wearing the proper purdah (veil) of course. Very soon Sufia got involved in social work along with progressive Brahma women

Nehal Hossain was a liberal man, who encouraged his wife's social welfare work as well as literary activities.

Thus the young Sufia, clad in a burqah, was able to go out to do welfare work among disadvantaged women. She was also able to develop her literary talent in Bangla.

Banglapedia - Begum Sufia Kamal

Publication of first short-story angers extended family

Inspired by her husband Nehal, in 1923 Sufia wrote her first short-story 'Sainik Badhu' (The Soldier Bride) and a few poems which were published in Tarun (Youth), a literary journal. But upon seeing her writing in print, her mama became furious since it violated the norms of Muslim aristocracy and took Sufia back to Shaistabad Such was the beginning of Sufia Kamal's literary career.


Sufia and Nehal had a daughter, Amena Kahnar. Sadly in 1932 Nehal passed away and five years later 26-year-old Sufia re-married. Her second husband was Kamaluddin Ahmed. The pair had a long relationship and are survived by two daughters, Sultana Kamal and Saeeda Kamal, two sons, Shahed Kamal and Sajid Kamal, and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

We hardly used to have ordinary or commonplace food, because mother had a keen interest in cooking. She liked to prepare special dishes. She used to cook different types of food everyday.

...One interesting thing was, those who came to her, they always felt that they were the most and best loved person by her. When she spoke to anyone, she would give her full attention to that person, irrespective of whether he was a hawker, or a high official or an ambassador.

Daughter Sultana Kamal

Often on Sundays she came and cooked at our house in Kolkata. She used to tell my mother 'Nuru's mother you do the cutting and preparing of the spices, I will do the cooking'. My mother tried but her dishes were never as delicious as Sufia Khala's.

Nurjahan Begum, daughter of Mohammad Nasiruddin and editor of Begum magazine, praises Sufia Kamal's cooking

My parents, Kamaluddin Ahmad Khan and Sufia Kamal, passed away some years ago. But the values they inspired in me through their own examples, and the encouragement they provided, have been sustaining elements in my commitment to renewable energy. The book embodies those values and is nourished by their encouragement. To them I offer my loving thanks.

Son Sajed Kamal in his acknowledgement section of book “The Renewable Revolution: How we can fight climate change, prevent energy wars. Revitalize the economy and transition to a sustainable future” (2011)


Encounter with Mahatma Gandhi in Barisal and support for non-cooperation movement

In 1925 Sufia met Mahatma Gandhi in the town of Barisal,_Begum_Sufia. Inspired by Gandhi’s struggle for independence and non-cooperation movement, she wove some thread on Charka (a small spinning wheel) as a mark of protest. Mahatma Gandhi also inspired her to wear simple clothing. Following her marriage, she had stopped wearing the elaborate, richly ornamented ‘Mughal’ dress of her childhood. Now she began to wear the simple handloom saris commonly worn by Bengali women,_Begum_Sufia. She also became a member of ‘Matri Mangal’ an organisation dedicated to women’s welfare.

Migration to Kolkata where she met Kazi Nazrul Islam and Mohammad Nasiruddin and published her first poem

After marriage Nehal moved to Calcutta (now spelt Kolkata) for higher education to continue studying law. He brought along his young energetic wife. The mighty, vibrant metropolis left a lasting impact on Sufia's mind. She got involved in literary activities and came to know Kazi Nazrul Islam, the Bidrohi Kobi (Rebel Poet) (1899-1976) and Mohammad Nasiruddin (1888-1994), a great patron of Muslim authors.

Kazi Nazrul Islam - who later became the National Poet of Bangladesh - was very impressed with Sufia's poems and urged her to print them,_Begum_Sufia. At the time Nasiruddin was the editor and publisher of 'Saogat', a literary journal that promoted young and upcoming writers. He inspired Sufia Kamal to engage herself into writing and Sufia quickly began put much effort in reading books and sharpened her writing style. In 1926 Saogat published Sufia's first poem, 'Basanti' (Of Spring).

Sufia Kamal became close to Mohammed Nasiruddin who provided space to Muslim women writers of Bengal in his magazine and fought against the discrimination perpetrated by the better-educated Hindu majority literati as well as those by conservative Muslims.

When Sufia Kamal first met Mohammad Nasiruddin in 1927, she was wearing a veil and the editor told her that a poet like her should not be under a veil. She replied that although she personally did not endorse it, she had to wear veil because of familial and social norms. Soon after this meeting, she stopped wearing the veil. In 1929, Shawgat decided to publish photographs of female writers along with their work, and Sufia Kamal was the first woman to agree to publish her portrait. When Nasiruddin took her to the studio of the famous portrait photographer, C. Guha, he was very surprised as that was the first time any Muslim lady stepped into his studio to be photographed.

The initial phase of Sufia Kamal's struggle was unique since there were very few Muslim women active in the social arena and she found support mostly in a progressive, liberal, male-dominated Muslim circle; this core group was considerably active in Kolkata. Such contacts and exposure made her a littérateur as well as an activist in the mainstream society.


A wave of joy swept through our house, as she entered. Once she was done asking after everyone, she would always leave her writings on the table and tell my father to do whatever he liked with them. She never gave a heading to her poems.

Nurjahan Begum, editor of Begum magazine and daughter of Mohammad Nasiruddin

Membership of Begum Rokeya's women's organisation Anjuman

In 1929 Sufia Kamal joined Anjuman-i-Khawatin-i-Islam, a social organisation of Muslim women founded by Begum Rokeya. The organisation aimed at promoting education and social awareness among women, especially those in the slums. Sufia Kamal played an active role and had a successful short but fruitful spell with Anjuman.

This [Anjuman-i-Khawatin-i-Islam] association not only provided women a forum where they could discuss issues relevant to them, it also promoted education and social reform. The influence of Roquiah's social ideals would continue to inspire Sufia throughout her life. She would write a number of poems on Roquiah and also dedicate an anthology to her, Mrttikar Ghran (Fragrance of the Earth, 1970). She would also help form the 'Rokeya Sakhawat Smriti Committee' (Roquiah Sakhawat Memorial Committee) which proposed that the first women's hall of Dhaka University be named 'Rokeya Hall'.

Begum Rokeya's great influence on Sufia Kamal

In 1931, 20-year-old Sufia was elected to the Indian Women's Federation. She became the first [Bengali?] Muslim woman to be elected to the federation,_Begum_Sufia.

But very soon things were about to change for the worse.

Nehal's death and flooding of nana'r bari

When Sufia Kamal was blossoming in Calcutta with active support of her husband, trying her hand in creative writing and getting involved with social work, a great disaster struck her. Her husband died suddenly of tuberculosis in 1932. Shortly after this tragedy, a sudden flooding of the river Kala Badar engulfed the palatial building of her maternal grandparent in Shaistabad as well as much of the family's landed property. Sufia Kamal, the 21-year-old widow with a 6-year-old girl child was in a fix and she decided to be on her own

Following her husband's death young widow Sufia Kamal decided to lead an independent life in Kolkata, instead of succumbing to family pressure and withdrawing to her in-laws' home in Barisal and leading a life of dependency on male members of the family.

She stayed behind in Kolkata with her daughter Amena, her brother Abdul Wali, and her mother,_Begum_Sufia. Sufia brought her mother from Barisal to stay with her who herself was a widow by then.

If she were born some 50 years earlier, such an option could not have been thought of. Ghulam Murshid in his book Reluctant Debutante wrote that in the late 19th century “a woman could earn independently only by working as house maid, illiterate midwife or as a dancer".

Mofidul Hoque,

School teacher in Calcutta

In 1933 Sufia Kamal joined Calcutta Corporation Free Primary School for girls as a school teacher. It was a very bold decision for a Muslim widow of 21 years old and one that was slated by her extended family.

Her anguish and disappointment was aptly captured in a poem she wrote:

"The tune of my flute vanished in the sandy isle, The dark waves of river Bador has devoured every thing. Those who used to kiss me with love Now no longer want to see my dark face." -

Not one to give up, Sufia fought against this conservative attitude and continued to work as a teacher for next eight years,_Begum_Sufia while still continuing to write and participate in social welfare activities. During this time she met the poet-essaysist Abdul Quadir (1906-1984) and Jasimuddin (1903-1976) who were co-workers at the school,_Begum_Sufia and who became her life-long friends.

The coming years were very crucial in Sufia Kamal's life as she went through the test of fire. Sufia Kamal did not have any formal education, nevertheless her well-wishers managed to find her the job of a school teacher. But life did not become easier even after getting the job. The conservative attitude prevalent in society found reflection in considering her as the 'evil spirit' in the family, one who begets misfortune. Moreover her job as a school teacher which required more open presence in society and her contact with writers and publishers made her a pariah in the family.

Sufia Kamal became a lone crusader against social barriers and the difficult struggle sapped her energy.

The 1930s was a period of great personal crisis in Sufia Kamal's life. She was tired of life and could not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Her only solace was in writing poems and communicating with her author friends, most of whom became important personalities in her later life.

Mofidul Hoque,

First book of short stories and first book of poems receive highest praise from Kazi Nazrul Islam and Rabindranath Tagore

Sufia's literary career took off after her first poetry publication.

In 1937 Begum Sufia Kamal's first book, Keyar Kanta (The Thorn of Flowers) was published containing a collection of short stories. The following year, her first book of poems, Sanjher Maya (The Twilight Illusion, also translated as The Eventide Spell) was published. Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote the foreword and praised the young poet. Rabindranath Tagore also read the book and wrote a glowing tribute to her, praising the collection as an exemplary work of literature,_Begum_Sufia.

Banglar kavya gagane navadita uday tara (a new star on the horizon of Bangla poetry).

How Kazi Nazrul Islam described Sufia Kamal after reading her first book of poems 'Sanjher Maya',

Bangla sahitye tomar sthan uchche ebong druva tomar prathista (You have a high place in Bangla literature, as constant and fixed as the Pole Star).

Rabindranath Tagore letter of praise to Sufia Kamal,

In 1984 'Sanjher Maya' was translated into Russian among other languages.

Second husband

In spite of the publication of these books, depression engulfed Sufia. She became sick and frail

During this difficult time a well-wisher arranged her marriage with Kamaluddin Ahmad Khan (1907-1977), a writer and translator. Kamal was a leading member of the Bulbul literary group which contained Habibullah Bahar Chowdhury, Shamsunnahar Mahmud and M. Wajed Ali, amongst others,_Begum_Sufia.

Kamal was a liberal and educated young man who became a great patron of Sufia Kamal's literary and social pursuits. Sufia found a new meaning in life and rediscovered her own self.


In Saogat she wrote a poem titled 'The Letter from Spring”: I was perplexed and never knew when the dew covering my pain evaporated, When the flowers blossomed in spring.

Calcutta riot

The 1940s was a time of great turmoil in India. Nationalist struggle reached a new height and ultimately succeed in forcing the British to finally leave India after ruling for nearly 200 years. Hindu-Muslim tension was also on the rise with political leaders failing to mend the gap between the two major communities. As communal relationship deteriorated, riots flared up in different parts of India. One of the most profile took place in Calcutta in 1946.

For her part Sufia Kamal worked very hard to calm the situation and bring peace. She worked tirelessly to help set up a temporary shelter camp for riot victims at Lady Brabourne College,_Begum_Sufia.

In those difficult times, she never lost her humanitarian belief, nor did she allow her outlook to be tarnished with communal feeling. The multicultural cosmopolitan atmosphere of Kolkata was a source of inspiration for her. She had met a great number of litterateurs, both Hindus and Muslims, and received encouragement from them.


Migration to Dhaka, East Pakistan, and encounter with Leela Nag Roy

In 1947 Mohammad Nasiruddin founded Shaptahik Begum, a weekly women's magazine. He appointed Sufia Kamal as its first editor,_Begum_Sufia.

In August that year British India was partitioned off into India and Pakistan, with the two wings of Pakistan known as East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh) and West Pakistan (present day Pakistan) separated by India in-between. There was mass exodus of people across the border.

In October,_Begum_Sufia, few weeks after the Partition, Sufia Kamal left Calcutta and moved to Dhaka, the provincial capital of East Pakistan, along with her family.

But the Kamal family had no place to go and took shelter at an orphanage. It was here that Sufia Kamal was contaced by Leela Nag Roy, a legendary revolutionary and close associate of Subhas Chandra Bose. She came to know about Sufia Kamal from various people but they had never met before. Leela assisted Sufia to find a house and got her involved with the work of Shanti (Peace) Committee founded by herself to provide relief to the victims of communal riot and maintain Hindu-Muslim friendship.

[Leela] Roy was the first female student of Dhaka University established in 1921. She founded and edited the journal Jayshree, led a revolutionary organisation and was in jail for ten years. She realised that as someone from Hindu community, it will be difficult for her to stay and work in East Pakistan, so when Sufia Kamal arrived in Dhaka, Roy immediately knew on whom she could rely to carry forward the struggle for emancipation.


The same year, the 'Purba Pakistan Mahila Samiti' (East Pakistan Women's Council) was formed with Sufia Kamal as its president.

In 1949, she became the founding co-editor (with Jahanara Arzoo) of a weekly magazine, 'Sultana', named after the principal character of Roquiah Sakhawat Hossain's famous novel "Sultana's Dream".

Student leader during Bhasha Andolon (1948 - 1952)



Founded 'Kachi-Kanchar Mela' children's organisation (1956)

After the birth of Pakistan three pioneer children organisations were formed in Bengal in mid-50s: 'Mukul Fauj', 'Khela Ghar', and 'Kachi-Kanchar Mela'.

The latter, Kachi-Kanchar Mela, was established by Sufia Kamal at her resident in Tarabagh on 5 October 1956. The main architect of the organisation was Rokonuzzaman Khan, popularly known by his pseudonym 'Dadabhai' (elder brother), who used to edit the children page 'Kachi-Kanchar Ashor' in the Daily Ittefaq newspaper of Tofazzal Hossain Manik Miah.

Rokonuzzaman was aptly supported by Professor Ajit Kumar Guha, Dr Abdullah Al-Muti Sharafuddin, who became popularly known for writings science stories for the children, Professor Anisuzzaman, who became Professor Emeritus of Dhaka University, and Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin, a pioneer in fine art in the country. All of them were advisors at the initial stage of budding children organisation and provided their cooperation and guidance.

Being an editor of the children page of Kachi-Kanchar Ashar and Muffazal, page editor of Daily Ittefaq, Rokonuzzaman Khan began his journey with handful members of the Ashar to build up a pioneer children organisation against the backdrop of economic and cultural exploitation by Punjabi dominated military-politico elite of Pakistan regime. He tried to imbibe in children a sense of values and tradition of Bengalis and patriotism for the country.

Mohammad Amjad Hossain, a retired diplomat and former Joint Director and lifelong member of Kachi-Kanchar Mela

For her part, Sufia Kamal travelled to different districts and sub-divisions branches of the Mela in a caravan accompanied by Prof. Guha, Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin, and poet Jasimuddin to promote the good work of the organisation and inspire like-minded people Mid 50s and 60s was heyday of the movement of the children organisations. Today, Kachi-Kanchar Mela is the largest children organisation in the country It has three service branches comprising Upadesta Parishad (Advisory Board), Shathi Parishad (Associate Board) and Karmi Parishad (Workers' Board). Poet Mahboob Talukdar was the first convener of the Karmi Parishad followed by Khandakar Ibrahim Khaled, former Deputy Governor of Bangladesh Bank.

Following the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 Mukul Fauj died a natural death as it was seen to be following the basic philosophy of Pakistan Khela Ghar was divided into two groups. Only Kachi-Kanchar Mela maintained its status as an unified children organisation.

The organisation worked hard to maintain its independent status in the face of sustained pressure to be affiliated with a political party. It has its own building - probably the only children organisation in Bangladesh who can boast such claim - located at Segun Bagicha area of Dhaka. The marshy land was given by the government of President Ziaur Rahman in 1980 and the foundation of the building was created initially with the financial assistance from NORAD (Norway Development Assistance). In 1995 an auditorium accommodating 320 people was added and the then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice Habibur Rahman inaugurated the building. Later, two further floors were added to the building through the financial assistance of the Japanese Embassy in Dhaka to make it into a 3-storey building

Rokonuzzaman Khan promoted good relationship between Norway and Bangladesh by taking a group of Bengali children to Norway after a group of children from Norway visited Bangladesh as friends of Kachi-Kanchar Mela Thus a good link had been established between the two nations separated by thousand of miles.

Begum Sufia remained closely associated with the organisation for over 40 years until her sad demise in 1999.

Activities by Central Kachi-Kanchar Mela includes:

  • Recreational classes in paintings, music, dance and recitation
  • Computer classes
  • Organising annual education camp where self-help motivational program, various exercises, and Lathi-Khela (stick dance) is held. This provides opportunity to members to interact and exchange their experiences with different Melas around the country
  • Organises monthly session for budding writers where elderly writers and lyricists join to discuss their writings critically
  • Holds birthday anniversary of poet Sufia Kamal and Rokonuzzaman Khan
  • Organises recitation and painting competitions in memory of poet Jasimuddin and Shilpacharya Zainul Abedin
  • Organises science fair in remembrance of Dr Abdullah Al-Muti Sharafuddin
  • Organises functions to celebrate Bangla Naba Barsha as a part of tradition of Kachi-Kanchar Mela

Kachi-Kanchar Mela expands with an awareness of the existing social reality.

The Central Kachi-Kanchar Mela is the only children organisation that promotes traditional Bengali culture. I can say proudly that this is the single children organisation in Bangladesh whose children have bagged many international awards in paintings by participating in exhibitions held in New Delhi, Tokyo, Seoul, Ankara and London.

On the occasion of completion of golden jubilee of the Central Mela on 5 October 2006 the Central Kachi-Kanchar Mela held a two-day cultural programme on 15-16 December 2006 which included a children’s parade, exchanging perspectives on the Liberation War and performances by children from its branches of Khagrachhori, Srimongal, Moulvibazar, Ullapara, Shirajganj, Kushtia, Manikgonj. And eleven eminent personalities, including Dr Anisuzzaman, Nirmal Kanti Das Gupta, Mohammad Amjad Hossain (this writer), Lyricist Faiz Ahmed, artist Hashem Khan, Shamusuzzaman Khan, present Director-General of Bangla Academy, Mohammad Kutubuddin, Mir Zahir Hossain, Dr Ali Asgar, Dr Zafar Iqbal and Professor Shafiul Alam were honoured while posthumous awards were given to Rokonuzzaman Khan aka Dadabhai, Begum Sufia Kamal, Tofazzal Hossain Manik Mia, Dr Abdullah Al-Muti Sharafuddin, Mohammed Nasiruddin ,MA Wadud, Barrister Abdul Haque, Luthful Haider Chowdhury, Hasan Jaan, Professor Ajit Kumar Guha and Shukhendu Chakrabarty. The Norwegian and Japanese embassy received award in the organisation category for assisting Central Kachi-Kanchar Mela.

...The Central Kachi-Kanchar Mela has the best library one could think of to cater to the needs of the children. It has more than five thousands books covering a wide range of subjects, both Bangla and English. Recently the library has been reorganised in line with library science with expertise knowledge of experienced librarian of Dhaka University.

I wish on its birthday Central Kachi-Kanchar Mela grows from strength to strength.

Mohammad Amjad Hossain

Founded Chhayanaut (1961)

In 1961 a group of Bengalis founded Chhayanaut, a cultural organisation which has gradually become the centre for upholding Bengali culture. Amongst the founding members was Sufia Kamali.

The organisation was originally founded as a reaction to the Rabindranath Tagore ban by the Government of Pakistan. The members felt that they needed to create a new and progressive organisation which would nurture Bengali culture and its rich musical heritage.

Founding members of Chhayanaut include: Begum Sufia Kamal Mokhlesur Rahman (Sidhu bhai) Saira Ahmed Shamsunnahar Rahman (Rojbu) Ahmedur Rahman (Ittefakher ‘Bimrul’) Wahidul Haq Saidul Hasan Forida Hasan Sanjida Khatun Mizanur Rahman (Sana) Saifuddin Ahmed Manik

Begum Sufia Kamal was selected as the founder President of the organisation. On Pahela Baishakh (first day of the Bangla year) in 1963 the Chhayanaut Sangeet Vidyayatan (Chhayanaut Music School) was established. Initially the school offered courses in Tagore and Nazrul songs, classical and instrumental music. Dance and folk music courses were later included. The following year, under the guidance of Sanjida Khatun, Pahela Baishakh was celebrated with a grand musical soiree at Ramna Botomul

Today, Chhayanaut is one of the leading music schools in the country. Its headquarter is the Chhayanaut Sangskritik Bhaban (Chhayanaut Cultural Centre) in Dhanmondi area of Dhaka. The construction of the Bhaban were completed in 200 and was funded by well wishers and public donation and money generated from cultural programmes. It did not get any financial assistance from the government nor any foreign aid Artist and widow of Shah ASM Kibria, Asma Kibria inaugurated the building.

Over the years, the musical programme has attained mass popularity to the extent that it has become synonymous with Pahela Baishakh celebration to many urbanites.


In addition to observing birth and death anniversaries of Rabindranath Tagore and Kazi Nazrul Islam, the school also celebrates seasonal festivals such as Pahela Falgun (Spring Festival), Borsha Baran (Ushering the rainy season) and Sharadiyo Utshab (Autumn Festival).

Leftist but not strictly political






Founder of Mahila Sangram Parishad, Kanchi-Kancher Mela, Chhayanaut and other socio-cultural organisations

Mahila Sangram Parishad (later Bangladesh Mahila Parishad)



Housebound during 1971 Muktijuddho






Religious humanist



Literary prowess



Awards galore

Few honours bestowed upon this great writer and champion of people's right...

During her lifetime:
  • Bangla Academy Award for Literature (1962)
  • Ekushey Padak/Medal (1976)
  • Nasiruddin Gold Medal (1977)
  • Muktadhara Puraskar (1982)
  • Jatiyo Kabita Parishad Award (National Poetry Council Award, 1995)
  • Women's Federation for World Peace Crest (1996)
  • Begum Rokeya Padak (1996)
  • Deshbandhu CR Das Gold Medal (1996)
  • Swadhinata Padak/Purushkar (Independence Day Award, 1997)
International award:
  • Lenin Centenary Jubilee Medal from the Soviet Union (1970)
  • Czechoslovakia Medal (1986)
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First Bengali woman to receive State funeral




Sufia's last request for a simple private burial and not state funeral




Knew seven languages

সুফিয়া কামাল was born in a landowning family and was the daughter of Syed Abdul Bari, a lawyer, and Sabera Banu. During her childhood, women's education was prohibited and in accordance with aristocratic social practice of the time, Begum Sufia Kamal was given education at home.

She learnt Bangla, Hindi, English, Urdu, Arabic, Kurdish and Persian language from her house tutors.

At twelve, Sufia was married to a maternal cousin, Syed Nehal Hossain, a law student. Nehal Hossain was a liberal man, who encouraged his wife's social welfare work as well as literary activities.

In 1918, she went to Kolkata with her mother where she meet prominent South Asian personalities, such as Begum Rokeya, Kazi Nozrul Islam and Mahatma Gandhi, who would influence her greatly throughout her life.

Sufia moved to Kolkata, where her husband was studying law. Sufia Kamali was only 21 years old when her husband Nehal Hossain died suddenly of tuberculosis in 1932. They had one daughter, Amena, together. However, instead of succumbing to family pressure and withdrawing to her in-laws' home in Barisal, the youth widow stayed in Kolkata with her daughter, her brother, Abdul Wali, and widowed mother. She took a teaching position at the Calcutta Corporation Free Primary School for girls. She worked at the school from 1933-1941, while continuing to write and participate in social welfare activities. At this time she met the poet-essayist Abdul Quadir and Joshimuddin, who were co-workers at the school and life-long friends.

Sufia Kamal remarried again five years later in 1937 to writer and translator Kamaluddin Ahmad Khan (1907-1977), a leading member of the Bulbul literary group.

Work endorsed by Kazi Nozrul Islam

Sufia Kamal's first poem "Barsha O Galpo" was written at the age of seven while the first story "Sainik Badhu" at fourteen.

Her first book of poems "Sanjher Maya" (Evening Beautiful) came out in 1938, and was published from Kolkata. Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote the foreward and praised the young poet. Nazrul was very impressed with Sufia's poems and urged her to print them. Mohammad nasiruddin, the owner-editor of the "Saogat", printed Sufia's first poem, 'Basanti' (Of Spring), in 1926.

Your poetic talent amazes me. You have a high place in Bengali literature, as constant and established as the north star (Bangla sahitye tomar sthan uchche ebong druva tomar prathista). Accept my blessing.

Rabindranath upon reading her first book of poems 'Sanjher Maya' (1938)

The father figure of Bangla literature, Robindronath Thakur, read the book and wrote to sufia:

Poet Sufia Hossain is a risen star on the Bengali poetic sky (Banglar kavya gagane navadita uday tara). From the horizon on which the sun has set, to have been able to express my admiration for her with an astonished and captivated heart, this for me will remain a memorable pleasure,

Kazi Nazrul Islam in his foreword to 'Sanjher Maya' (Eventide Spell).

Sufia Kamal was also the first Muslim woman to fly in an aeroplane from Kolkata's Dumdum airport.

Begum Rokeya influences Sufia Kamali

In 1929 Sufia Kamal joined Anjuman-i-Khawatin-i-Islam, an association of Muslim women, founded by Roquiah Sakhawat Hossain. This association not only provided women a forum where they could discuss issues relevant to them, it also promoted education and social reform.

Begum Rokeya would continue to inspire Sufia throughout her life. She would write a number of poems on Roquiah and also dedicate an anthology to her, "Mrttikar Ghran" (Fragrance of the Earth, 1970). She would also help form the 'Rokeya Sakhawat Smriti Committee' (Roquiah Sakhawat Memorial Committee) which proposed that the first women's hall of Dhaka University be named 'Rokeya Hall'.

First Muslim women to join Indian Women's Federation

In 1931, Sufia was elected to the Indian Women's Federation, the first Muslim woman to be elected to the federation.

Fighting for Bengali identity

In 1947, when "Shaptahik Begum" was first published, Sufia Kamal became its first editor. In October of that year after the partition of India she came to Dhaka. During a huge clash between Hindu and Muslim of that time Kamal worked for their friendship and joined in Peace Committee. In 1948, when "Purbo Pakistan Mohila Committee" (East Pakistan Women's Committee) formed, she became its chairman. She also participated in 1952, with the Language Movement.

In 1961, when the Pakistani government banned Rabindra Sangeet (Songs of Rabindranath), she became involved in the movement among Bengalis that ensued in 1961. During the mass uprising in 1969, which demanded the resignation of Pakistani General Ayub Khan, she promoted the cause by forming Mohila Sangram Parishad (Women's Struggle Group).

Family's aid to Mukti Bahini

She was involved in the 1971 Liberation War and all later movements against dictatorial regimes.

During the Bangladesh Liberation War, two of Sufia Kamal's daughters joined the Mukti Bahini, setting up the first hospital for freedom fighters at Agartala. Sufia, her husband and older son, decided to stay on in the country to aid the Mukti Bahini by providing moral support and a safe place where messages could be passed back and forth.

During the war, Sufia kept two diaries, "Ekattarer Diary" (Diary of '71) and a poetic diary, which became "Mor Jaduder Samadhi Pare" (Where My Darlings Lie Buried). These poems recall the atrocities committed by the Pakistani army and call upon freedom fighters to fight to liberate their country. At the same time, in "Benibinyas Samay To Ar Nei" (No More Time for Braiding Your Hair) Sufia Kamal reminds women that they too have a duty towards their mother land.

National contribution

Since liberation, Sufia Kamal also initiated and led many other organisations, at both governmental and non-governmental levels. She was the founding-chairperson of the following organisations:

  • The Bangladesh Women's Rehabilitation Board
  • Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee
  • Dustha Punarbasan Sangstha (Organisation for the Rehabilitation of the Destitutes)
  • Chhayanaut - a major cultural organisation
  • Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation - a foundation for the treatment, education and rehabilitation of the handicapped
  • Nari Kalyan Sangstha - which has published a number of Begum Roquiah's books, among its various activities

Work translated to Chinese, Polish, and Russian

Her poems have been translated into Chinese, English, German, Italian, Polish, Russian, Vietnamese, Hindi and Urdu.

The fullest representation of her work in translation so far has been in Russian. In 1984, a Russian translation by Kama Ivanova of her first book of poetry, Sanjher Maya was published in the Soviet Union. A few of her poems have been published in journals and magazines in the United States. In 2001, the bangla academy published "Mother of Pearls and Other Poems", an English translation of some of her most famous poems and in 2002 "Sufia Kamaler Rachana Samagra".

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