A tribute to Nurjahan Begum Editor of ‘Begum’ The Pioneer of Women Journalism in Our Country. By: Raju Alim

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Nurjahan Begum, being the daughter of renowned journalist Mohammad Nasiruddin, more known as Sawgat Editor Nasiruddin, and wife of another famous journalist Rokonuzzaman Khan, who was the editor of the feature pages of the daily Ittefaq and founder of the “Kochi KancharMela” could have been enough to be renowned. The reputation of her family, the environment and influence through which she was brought up, would have been enough to build her identity.  But she ought to be something more than that and her credit lies in her endeavor and ambition. She could have achieved things very easily, she could have become high social, she could have gained top position definitely but her plan was something more.

She walked opposite to the stream and that’s why she got engaged with ‘Begum”, the first magazine that aimed for the revive of women. She did not choose the way to be famous rather she went through the path that desired for the progress of the whole society. All the advance work and ambition that she had for the changing of society proves her generosity.

Begum is Bangladesh’s first weekly magazine. From the cover star to the featured pictures, the publicity and the promotion, make them equal in the question of right and wrong thought, everything was so unique that set example to our culture. Even when we look at her lifestyle we get the shadow of her awakening personality in every activity. Such a blending of her professional life and personal life towards enlargement are the greatest examples of her novelty. All whose specialty makes her unrivaled. Luxury, pomp, glamour or stereotype capital-centered society never attracted her. She served for the bigger purpose in her own way. Victory or defeat, loss of profit, fame or discredit never become successful to influence her from her motto. This is the sign of a true leader.

She wrote, she organized the people and worked for the betterment of people. And while doing so, she got the full support of her Rokonuzzaman Khan as an understanding friend.

Rokonuzzaman Khan, who was especially known as Dadabhai himself was another enlightening person of art and literary world. Nurjahan Begum, throughout her lifespan always admired the support and cooperation that she received from her husband. It was because of her husband’s full support and limitless alliance that let her continued the responsibility to work for consecutive sixty-nine years. From 1947 to 2016, Nurjahan Begum marked history and left such an example that continually moved and motivated women of the subcontinent. This pioneer woman left her outstanding contribution in numerous sectors including women education, women awakening and especially in women empowerment. She was enlightening and liberating women and worked to bring out the suppressed talents of girls and women through the might of the pen.

Founded by her father Nasiruddin, “Begum” was first published from the then Calcutta in 1947 and after the partition of the country, the weekly came to Dhaka in 1950. Begum, was first published in Calcutta on 20 July when India was poised to attain freedom from the British colonial rule. After her father she walked on the same way like her father as she was the pioneering woman journalist and edited the weekly “Begum” for over six decades as a mouthpiece of Bengali women until her last breathe. At that time when publishing women’s photo was a matter of objection, Begum became the first magazine in the region to publish photos of its female writers. ‘Begum’ was so popular at that around 25 thousands of copies of each issue used to publish even in 1970’s. ‘Begum’ was the thought provoking source of ideas and entertainment of the educated women society Begum Magazine had begun the revolution for us long before we had become a part of it. The Magazine paved the path for women all across the region to step out of their shells. To spread the ideas and notions she assisted in establishing the first women’s club for women, writers and social workers named ‘The Begum Club’ in Dhaka in 1954. Sara Toifur, Shamsunnahar Mahmud, Ashalota Shen, AnwaraBahar Chowdhury, TahminaBanu, ProtivaGanguli, RabeyaKhatun, Sayed SufiaShahittorotno, Ashapurna Debi, Neelma Ibrahim, ZobaidaGulshanAra, MokbulaManzoor, Rizia Rahman and many other prominent literary faces were the member of ‘Begum Club’.

Founder and journalist Mohammad Nasiruddin published the ‘Begum’ magazine to expand women’s contribution in literature, art and culture, to increase their fascination for education and to break the prejudice were her main motto. Nurjahan Begum fulfilled that dreams of her with 100% dedication. This publication of Begum magazine really helped a lot to motivate the women of the region.

Nurjahan Begum was the acting Editor before Begum Sufia Kamal took over. Later, when Sufia Kamal moved to Dhaka she stepped in. She too later shifted to Dhaka and continued as the Editor till she passed away. Nasiruddin, too, left Kolkata and came over to Patuatuli, Old Dhaka in 1950. The main office of ‘Begum’ magazine also got transferred at patuatuli and since then, Begum was published from there. Nurjahan Begum took birth in Chalitatali of Chandpur on June 4, 1925. Her mother’s name was Fatema Begum. From there her family moved to Kolkata in 1929. They lived there in the duel house of Wellesley Street, which was the office of ‘Sougat’ paper too. The downstairs of the building was the main ‘Saugat’ office and their whole family used to live on the upper floor. Mohammad Nasir Uddin used to host many cultural and literary discussions in that same office where many literary people like Kazi Nazrul Islam, khan Mohammed Moinuddin, AbulMonsur Ahmed, AbulKalamShamsuddin, Mohammed Wazed Ali, HabibullahBahar, EbrahimKha, KajiMotaherHossen, and other eminent faces used to gather. Nurjahan Begum was a child still then, but still she became the continue listener of other literary personalities.

Everyone used to call her as Nuri. From the very beginning of her childhood newspapers become the major attraction to her. What is the purpose of a newspaper, how to read it, how to edit it, how to write features all these factors were very interesting to her and she tried to know more about the process? Begum magazine is a complete example of her curiosity and passion. That’s’ why the response to Begum was paramount. To encourage women to write, the initial issues of Begum tried to make space for all female writers who mostly used to send poems, stories and practical contents like cooking and sewing. The writings would come from remote parts of the country yet Begum made it possible to publish those with full concentration and care. It may sound easy to publish a magazine like Begum today, but in that era, it was quite impossible to do so. No wonder, her passion made her world substantial and subsequently as the Editor of Begum helped her play a  historic role in media and empowerment. Her dedication to the progress of the women sector makes her exceptional among others. In 1960’s RabeyaKhatun, Rizia Rahman, RomenaAfaz, AnamikaHoque Lili continued writing in Begum.

Begum was published to secure the progress of women and its targeted reader was women also, but it became successful to grasp the attraction of male society. For that reason, while reading Begum in 80’s and 90’s readers get the idea of ehole scenario including general knowledge to literary ideas and multi-cultural factors. Business or promotion in the corporate world was never the main purpose of ‘Begum’ magazine. From the cover to the featured contents, Begum followed the simple outlook still it grabbed huge response from its readers.  Begum inspired women and became able to make major changes in their mindsets. Nurjahan Begum believed in the equality of men and women and demonstrated that idea in a very simple but effective way.  It’s not that all her achievement was the result of her identity as the daughter of Mohammad Nasiruddin or the wife of Rokonuzzaman Khan. That is not for sure. All her achievement was the result of her continuous concentration, commitment  and dedication. As a women her glory was based on inner soul. Whether as a writer or as an editor, it was her simplicity that makes her boundless and extraordinary. As we know, that the evolution on Bengali Muslim women’s notion happened in west Bengal especially. Because of the friable financial system, another middle cass society get developed. That educated middle class society   and there activities moved around the capital city of Dhaka. Women of that time used to stay inside the house. It can be imagined that how difficult it was for the girls of that time to continue their study and career. Nurjahan Begum still continued her education at Kolkata, then came back to Dhaka and took the responsibility of Begum Magazine. She encourages girls and women of that time with absolute sincerity.

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