Dr. Zohra Begum Kazi

  • Born: 15 October 1912, Rajnandgaon, Madhya Pradesh (now Chhattisgarh), India
  • Died: 7 November 2007, Dhaka (aged 95)
  • Profession: Bangladeshi physician
  • Recognition: First Bengali Muslim female doctor of undivided India
  • National contribution: Ekushey Padak winner (2008)
  • Hasani? Didn't know that! Never had any children of her own

Early life

Zohra Begum Kazi came from the well-educated and influential Kazi family of Gopalpur village under Kalkini Upazila of Madaripur district (Dhaka bibhag or Division) in what was then Bengal, British India. Her father Dr. Kazi Abdus Sattar was a renowned physician and a politician of the Subcontinent who rendered his invaluable service throughout his life as Surgeon of India. He was a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Maulana Shawkat Ali, Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Sher-e-Bangla AK Fazlul Haq and many other renowned personalities of that time.

After a neighbour died during delivery, Dr. Kazi Abdus Sattar was determined to make his two daughters, Zohra and Shirin, physicians. And true to his word, they did.

He [Dr. Kazi Abdus Sattar] had a very good relation with M. K. Gandhi, the Father of the Nation of India. Dr Sattar also came in close touch with other great leaders of India and himself too became a popular leader of the National Congress. The two daughters also inherited his quality. The opportunity and encouragement from their spirited father them ahead to the fruition of their high ambition.

Niranjan Chakravarty, Educationist

Family life

At the age of 32, Zohra Kazi married Razuddin Bhuiyan MLC MP, a prominent law-maker and a dedicated social worker. Razuddin was the only son of the Zaminder of Hatirdia under Raipur Upazila of Narsingdi district (north-west of Dhaka). They had a successful marriage for 19 years but unfortunately they had no children. This did not stop Zohra Kazi from adopting and educating thousands of children from impoverished families throughout India, Pakistan, and later Bangladesh. In 1963, when Zohra Kazi was 51 years old her husband passed away and she chose not to remarry.

She did not regret her childlessness. She considered her students and patients to be her children. She devoted her life to serve people.

Doctor Lutfunnahar, former student of Zohra Kazi's

Her eldest brother, Prof. Kazi Ashraf Mahmud, studied at medical college until he was expelled for his political involvement. He later became a famous poet in Hindi language. Prof. Mahmud was a close associate of Comrade Muzaffar Ahmed (the legendary left politician who took an active role in the anti-colonial movement), Ramdas Gandhi (son of Mahatma Gandhi), and Kazi Nazrul Islam (later the National Poet of Bangladesh). He was a founder member of All India Communist Party and served as the secretary general of All India Students Federation when Kazi Nazrul Islam was the organisation's president. He retired as a Professor of Botany in Dhaka University. Professor Mahmud is most noted for a controversial book of correspondence between Mahatma Gandhi and himself, "Letter-box of an unknown man", published privately in 1969.

Zohra Kazi's younger sister, Dr. Shirin Kazi was a renowned physician, English poet and columnist. She was noted as being the first Bengali female doctor to obtain a DRCOG degree in 1951. Dr. Shirin Kazi later specialised in paediatrics. And just like Zohra Kazi, Shirin was known for having adopted and raised several children from less fortunate families.

Active in sport and arts

Zohra Kazi was an active person in her personal life. She was a passionate cyclist, table tennis player and a badminton player. She was multilingual and could read, write and speak in Hindi, Urdu, Arabic and English fluently.

Zohra Kazi also shared her brother’s affection for Kazi Nazrul Islam, Muzaffar Ahmed, A. K. Fazlul Huq and other distinguished personalities of her time.

Famously, Kazi Nazrul Islam is said to have once asked young Zohra about her aim in life and she replied, "I will read, and will teach and serve people. You will pray for me".

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Inspired by Mahatma Gandhi to provide medicine to the masses

Dr. Kazi Abdus Sattar and his children had a soft spot for the Gandhi family. The three siblings once served in Sevagram (meaning "A village for service"), the ashram (spiritual retreat) established by Mahatma Gandhi in Nagpur, India, where Zohra Kazi and Shirin worked as volunteers. In fact, Zohra Kazi began her professional career as a voluntary gynaecologist at Mahatma Gandhi's Sevashram, a charity organisation which provided free medical care for the poor. The Sebashram later gave birth to the Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences, India’s first rural medical college.

Zohra's father also worked at the organisation as a volunteer. Both father and daughter strongly believed in Gandhi’s philosophy and devoted themselves to the pursuit of social development. Zohra’s relatives, however, disapproved of her and her father actions as they thought that she was spoiling her family’s reputation by constantly relocating herself to provide medical treatment.

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Zohra Kazi also served as an honorary secretary of the Kasturba National Memorial Hospital, named after the wife of Mahatma Gandhi, and worked hard to improve the hospital. Letters written by the Mahatma to the young Zohra Kazi, indicate that he treated her as his own daughter.

I have sweet memories with Gandhiji. When we went there we had a lot of fun. Gandhiji requested us to have this and that when we were having meal together. His wife Kastura Bai was a very kind person. It was a one hour journey from Nagpur to Sebagram and yet she insisted on always giving us food when we were coming back.

Gandhiji used to say to me "never be scared in life. You may lose your life. As you have born you must die", the advice still resonates in my ear.

Zohra Begum Kazi

First class medical student

Zohra Kazi had attended primary school in different areas of India as her father was a surgeon and was often appointed to different places. In 1928 she matriculated with distinction from Muslim Girls' Collegiate High School, Aligarh. Two years later, she passed her Intermediate (ISc) examination in science with distinction from Aligarh Muslim University & College. In 1935 Zohra Kazi obtained MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery) degree from Lady Hardinge Medical College for Women, Delhi. The Lady Hardinge was the first ever medical college for women in Asia and was established in 1916 by the then viceroy of India Lord Charles Hardinge who named it after his wife Winifred Selina Sturt Hardinge (popularly referred to as Lady Hardinge).

Zohra Kazi ranked First class First in her MBBS examination and was awarded "The Viceroy of India's Medal" by the British government for her meritorious achievement.

First Bengali Muslim lady doctor of the subcontinent

After her MBBS, Zohra Kazi served in different hospitals throughout India as Assistant Surgeon for the next 13 years. She was the first Bengali Muslim lady doctor of the subcontinent. Apart from being a government doctor she worked voluntarily in different charity organisations. After the partition of India in 1947, Dr. Zohra Kazi returned to her ancestral home in Gopalpur, south-west of Dhaka. The following year she was offered a teaching job at the Mittford Medical College, Dhaka, but she declined as she wanted to pursue her education and do research. But the Partition resulted in no lady physicians in newly formed Pakistan as all the Hindu lady physicians left for India. Thus, later in 1949 when Dr. Zohra Kazi received another proposal to join Dhaka Medical College & Hospital (DMCH) as their Resident Surgeon (Gynaecology) she agreed and settled in Dhaka.

The two sisters [Zohra and Shirin] came down with a flood of light which began to overflow the Bengali Muslim society causing a sort of evolution. When they were admitted to Medical College, even their nearest relatives rebuked them and commented that these daughters of Dr Sattar would be Christians. In reply the high minded father said, "My daughters will be pure Muslims".

After partition those relatives invited them to come to their own land as they felt the necessity of lady physicians. So after 1947 came these two sisters to their beloved land with the message of salvation for the women folks of this land in the sectors of education and treatment.

Professor Zohra's classmate was Dr Sushila Nayar who was once the Central Minister for Health in India. Her other mates were Dr Shila Halder and Dr Usha Halder. Dr Zohra topped the list in the result sheet of the MBBS examination. Dr Zohra won the scholarships throughout her bright educational career starting from primary school. In those days this academic career was very rare, surprising and beyond imagination for a woman and this is Dr. Zohra who could show that.

Prof. Zohra Begum Kazi always likes simple dress. She is free and frank in her behaviour. Her generous heart is full of true love for her friends and relatives. At the demise of her bosom mate Dr. Sushila Nayar, she had been overwhelmed with grief. In an overwhelmingly choked voice she said, "Sushila has left me alone".

Niranjan Chakravarty, Educationist

I knew her since my childhood. On 14 August, 1948, Zohra came to our house in Raipur, India, and told my father that she was immigrating to East Pakistan. She urged my father to send me to Dhaka with her to attend Dhaka Medical College. My father consented, hoping a bright future lay ahead in Dhaka. I came with her leaving my family behind in Raipur and lived with her. She admitted me to the Dhaka Medical College. She took great care of me and showered me with motherly affection. As a person, she had superb human qualities.

Doctor Akhtar Iqbal Begum, former additional director general of health services of the government and a family friend

Pioneering 'Lady Doctor'

Dr. Zohra Begum Kazi was a brilliant student. She completed her FCPS (Fellowship of College of Physicians & Surgeons) degree - postgraduate training in specialties of Medicine - from Pakistan and in 1955 received a scholarship from the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) in London, UK, and successfully obtained DRCOG (Diploma of the RCOG) degree . She continued her studies in London and obtained FRCOG (Fellowship of RCOG) and MRCOG (Membership of RCOG) degrees. Upon her return to East Bengal (then renamed East Pakistan), she joined Dhaka Medical College and Hospital (DMCH) as Professor and Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.