December 9, 2023

Happy Rokeya Day!

Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain (c. 1880 — 1932), posthumously dubbed Begum Rokeya (a “begum” is a Muslim woman of high rank) was a Bengali feminist thinker, educator, political activist, and proto-sf author hailing from what is now Bangladesh.

We’re Rokeya fans, here at HILOBROW. In 2015, I listed Hossain’s 1905 proto-sf story “Sultana’s Dream” as one of the 100 best Radium Age proto-sf stories. In 2022, I included “Sultana’s Dream” in the anthology Voices from the Radium Age, which I edited for the MIT Press’s RADIUM AGE series.

In a March 2022 essay for The MIT Press Reader, I discuss Hossain’s activism: She founded the Muslim Women’s Association, which fought for women’s education and employment, and she established the first school aimed primarily at Muslim girls in Kolkata. And also her literary legacy, including the two-volume essay collection Matichur (A String of Sweet Pearls, 1904/1922), her 1924 novel Padmarag (The Ruby, or Essence of the Lotus), and her 1931 feminist treatise Abarodhbasini (The Confined Women).

Ladyland, the setting of “Sultana’s Dream,” is a progressive utopia run by highly educated women. From the Voices from the Radium Age introduction: “It’s instructive to revisit the social ills that concerned Hossain, particularly since we’ve made so very little progress since then. The two-hour workday of Ladyland, for example, seems ever less possible for today’s workers, who are not only exploited by their employers but bamboozled into believing that “the hustle” is what gives life meaning. And forget about flying cars. When will we ever see realized what Sultana glimpses: the abolition of fossil-fuel technologies, the greenifying of cities, the detoxification of masculinity, and the triumph of love and truth over fear and hatred?”

Every December 9th, Bangladesh observes Rokeya Day — in Begum Rokeya’s honor. Since 2021, HILOBROW has joined in this tradition.