Rokeya and Rosa in Teknaf
“My husband was killed by the Myanmer Army on 26th August morning. I was at my labour pains at that time and was giving birth to my 9th child. I have traversed miles of hilly areas in last two weeks and finally crossed the Shah Pari island to step in Bangladesh, ” Hazra (age:23) was explaining to two ladies who appear like women journalists or those female aid workers coming from different NGOs. One of them is a foreigner woman in skirt and blouse and another one was in a simple saree.
“Write something on me too. I have also become a widow overnight on 26th August. I have eight children,” said Arba (age: 24). “We are not sure where to go and how to make a living. My husband was a solvent farmer in the Rakhine state but now we are homeless and staying under the open sky,” she added.
Begum Rokeya, though Bengali, could not grasp a single word of Rohingya or Chittagonian dialect. A local resident of Teknaf was interpreting the dialect to her in standard Bengali and Rokeya was translating it further in English to Rosa Luxemburg.
`You are Rokeya Hossain, an aid worker and also a freelance journalist from Dhaka?’ asked Rosa Luxemburg.Rokeya smiled gently- she does not wish her real identity to get revealed to public- so she is paying this visit to Bangladesh from heavens in a pseudo name. She has also changed her attire. She wears a normal salwar kamiz with her hair tied up in a 21st century punch clip. For last few days her spirit has been roving in the air of Dhaka, Chittagong, and now in Teknaf. No- nobody can identify her. She has taken the form of hundreds of female aid workers in today’s Bangladesh. Has Sultana’s Dream come true, dear Rokeya? Too many women are out in the streets! They are going to schools and factories, serving as nurses and doctors in hospitals, advocating in courts as lawyers and judges, managing traffic in police uniform, conducting the Parliament session as the Speaker and commanding the entire country as both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition- still what is missing, Sister Sarah? No- sister Sarah- still women are getting abused, battered and ravished in the streets and public buses by men- men could not be confined into “mardana” as they are secluded in Naristhan (women’s land). Some women show their faces and hair while some are wearing hijabs and burkhas though they are using heavy makeover. Most of the women, either in hijab or not, use high dose makeover- which was quite uncommon in Rokeya’s time. Muslim women just began getting a little education at that time though Brahmma and Hindu women were much ahead in their journey towards emancipation. They were taking part even in Swadeshi movement. But all of them, be Hindus, Brahmmas or Muslims, used to get clad themselves in simple sarees and sandals with very little makeover. Not every woman used to decorate herself like a living doll.
“You are Rokeya Hossain?” Rosa repeats her question, “Hey- are you amidst the clouds?” she laughs at Rokeya.
Rokeya gets ashamed, “Sorry- dear- yes, I am Rokeya Hossain. I have been asked by my office to accompany you as an interpreter on 24 hours’ basis. You are Rosa…your surname please? I have seen your name several times in the official correspondences but forgot it every time”
“Rosa Lasalle,” Rosa replies nervously. She too wishes to hide her real identity. Her spirit landed in Dhaka yesterday noon. She has adopted a different surname and get up to adjust with today’s women of Germany. Rosa is not that much used to wearing a skirt over knee and have short hair. In their days the length of skirt was no less than dropping down to ankles and they used to tie up their long locks in different designs.
“No- actually I have not worked in the Bangladesh chapter of this INGO for long. I have applied just as a 15 days interpreter with you. We had a stormy interview session after the CV dropping and I was selected. I have joined here the day before you have come.”“G-r-e-a-t! Will you accompany me in our next visit to North Bengal, I mean Rangpur? This office has some project in North Bengal too!”
“Yes- that’s why I have applied here! After how many years I can visit my birth place!”
“Pardon?” Rosa gets astonished, “Rangpur is your birth place?”
“Yes- I mean I was born there. Later my father shifted and got settled in Dhaka,” Rokeya manages somehow and murmurs to herself, “Thanks God! I was almost on the verge of telling her the entire story of my reincarnation.”
“Anyway, are you particularly interested about the Rohingya crisis? That’s why you have come here?” Rokeya asks Rosa.
“Yes- in our time the international geo political issues were of entirely different ranges. Now the situation has changed so much! Different interests of different states- U.S.A., China, India, Pakistan or Myanmer- Rohingya issue should be of paramount importance to any learner in politics- that’s why I decided to come here!” Rosa said.
“In your time- sorry- what do you mean?”
“Oh- nothing- nothing!”
Rokeya and Rosa: After the dinner
All the motels and hotels of Cox’s Bazar were too crowded to get a single room for each of them. Finally, the receptionist of a hotel helplessly suggested to Rokeya: “Apa- both of you are women. So what’s the harm in sharing a two bed’ room?”
Rosa understood his gesture and nodded with a smile. She has spent hard times in prison with other female inmates. And here it’s a luxurious hotel…huh!
As both Rokeya and Rosa had entered the hotel room after a day’s work, they were not feeling at ease any longer with their modern day outfit. Two oldies wished to get dressed in their original attire. So Rokeya took her plain saree from the suitcase and wore it with the long sleeve blouse and Rosa changed the knee long skirt as she wore a long skirt dropping down to ankles.
“You seem familiar- are you- are you Rosa Luxemburg, the great Marxist Feminist? Though I had not that much time to study Marxism vigorously as for me the fight was even much more terrible- waging war and sacrificing the entire life just to set up a school for Bengali Muslim girls- but I know about you.”
“I have the same suspicion- you are Begum Rokeya? The dreamer of Sultana’s Dream?”
“My goodness- how could you know about me? After all the western intellectuals know very little about us!”
“I will not deny it. Yes, we have some sort of racial superiority complex even if we are Marxists or Feminists or Socialists- whatever we are. I did not know about you in my previous life. But a reincarnated soul knows too many things as I assume you have known about me after reincarnation.”
“That’s true, dear Rosa!”
“Probably we should go to bed for sleep now. We will fly for Rangpur tomorrow morning and we are scheduled to visit the Pairaband village, am I right?”
“Yes- Pairaband is my birth place. I don’t know at what state that feudal mansion lies now!” Rokeya sighs.
“You will be able to see that with your very own eyes tomorrow,” Rosa assured her. Rosa and Rokeya in Pairaband
It took a one hour ride on microbus to reach Pairaband from Rangpur airport.
“My home- Rosa- see!” Rokeya whispered to Rosa in moistened eyes.
“Give me some food- hey, give me some food,” a woman in a torn saree and unclean locks extends her hands to them. She was begging for alms. Her eyes looked like burning coals.
“Who is she?” both Rokeya and Rosa asks the caretaker, appointed by the government, of the degenerated mansion of the Rokeya family.
“Her name is Basanti Baske. A Santal woman who was raped by the Pak army in 1971. She has gone mad for long many years. She has no further recourse except loitering in the streets and looking for alms.”
Rokeya begins weeping.
“What happens to you, Rokeya?” Rosa gets sympathetic.
“I am fortunate that I had not to witness the horrendous cruelty on women during partition of 1947 or in the Liberation War of 1971. Hope, my Pairaband is fine now!”
Meantime, a police car came close and stopped thereby. A police officer seems to approach the caretaker and asks him, “So you have arranged a marriage for your 14-years’ old daughter? Don’t you know that’s forbidden under law and no girl should be given to marriage before 18? Your daughter called us stating she wishes to study more.”
“But we heard that Parliament is going to enact a law that will reduce the minimum age criterion for a woman’s marriage to 16 from 18?”
“The law is yet to get enacted! And your daughter is not even sixteen.”
“Why do you want your daughter to get married at such an early age? She wants to complete her education, find a job and become self-reliant! Don’t you want your daughter’s wishes to get fulfilled?” Rokeya asked.
“Madam- I understand everything. But I am a patient of heart disease and my elder sons don’t look after us who are settled in their own lives. I am a poor man and if I die all on a sudden, who will look after this growing up girl? Law and order situation is too worsening every day.”
“Still try to educate your daughter. Our Government is offering some stipend for female students to avoid girls’ drop up in the higher secondary level of schools.” The police officer admonished him. Returning Dhaka from Pairaband by a train…discussing their “relationships.”
Both Rokeya and Rosa opted for returning by a train rather than catching on a flight. They longed for mixing up with common people, see the panorama of the paddy fields, bamboo groves and mango orchards.
`So Rokeya- you have exhausted your entire life for setting up schools for Muslim girls and writing fiery write-ups for women. And besides work- you were a woman of flesh and blood. Can I dare to ask about your relationship?”
“Nothing much to say actually,” Rokeya sighed, “I was born in a Bengali Muslim, feudal family. Girls had to remain under strict purdah and had no access to schools. But my elder brother taught me Bengali and English and I am so indebted to him! I had to marry a man of my double age, a widowed person at his 36 when I was mere 18. My husband was, however, a good person and he encouraged me to study, write and carry on social work. I gave birth to a child who died soon after its birth. I became widow at 29 and all I wanted to set up a school for Muslim girls according to my husband’s last wishes. But my step children did not adhere to that wish very easily and ugly legal fight over property rights ensued.”
“You did not marry again?”
“No- when did I get time? Also a widow from an aristocratic family could seldom remarry at that time in the Indian sub-continent, be Hindus or Muslims. What’s about you?”
“One more question, Rokeya! You did write Abarodhbasini ("The Secluded Women", 1931) and the same you wrote Burkha- advocating on behalf of purdah. Is it not contradiction?”
“Dear Rosa- my fight was even more crucial and hundred times harder than yours. But I wrote The Secluded Women in 1931 and lived just one year more. I died in 1932. So The Secluded Women connotes the true essence of my thoughts and conscience. I also wrote Padmarag ("Essence of the Lotus", novel, 1924) and Motichur (a collection of essays, 1904-1922) where I narrated that marriage and children cannot be the ultimate goal for women. I dared to state that the holy religious commandments are all creation of men.”
“But what have you found in your land after your reincarnation?”
“I find marriage is still considered as the ultimate goal for women and burkha/hijab or shankha-sindoor (conch-vermilion) are still binding by custom on women of Bangladesh according to their faiths. Now tell about yours?”
“Obviously I was luckier than you in some aspects of my life. Though I was born nine years before you, I could attend schools or even universities and obtain a Ph.D. degree, could join political party, I could have a sexual life without marriage which is still culturally not acceptable in your society but-“
“Yes- I longed for marriage and children. But my comrade and lover Leo Jogiches wished to devout his entire life for revolution. We could not get married and single motherhood was not accepted even in a country like Germany at that period. Many existing social norms were broken and new norms were formed after the Second World War. But I did not live that much! I was killed on January 15th of 1919.”
“But people will forever recall you for your “The Historical Conditions of Accumulation,” “The Dissolution of Primitive Communism” or “Slavery.” They will remember you for “Social Reform or Revolution,” “The Junius Pamphlet” and others.”
As the train moves, both Rosa and Rokeya appears a little fatigued.
“How do you feel? About this 21st century? East and West?” Rokeya asks while opening her laptop.
“The world has marched ahead and not- rise of neo fascism, intolerance to the migrants is still there in Germany. Both Islam and Hinduism have been politicalized in the Indian sub-continent. Women are more emancipated, again more commercialized as sexual commodities. War and ethnic hatred have multiplied…everything seems so bizarre!”
“I am adding you in my facebook. Have already added and invited you to some events…”
“Oh…this social network…yes, be it Arab Spring or whatever…social network or technology is creating new modes and platforms of social movement…but…”
“See- I have invited you…”
Rosa too opens her notepad and logs in:
“Hmm…you have sent me two event invitations. One to claim compensation for victims of a factory accident, another to stage a procession against the question paper leakage scam…okay…fine!”
“Please…come tomorrow…almost every day I invite too many people to come to so many occasions but very few of them come.”
“Yes, likes and shares on social network do not always or cannot always count for a strong movement. Rather our early 20-th century movements were far better. We had strongholds at factories and dockyards, within labour colonies and even in prisons. We did not need any social network or clicking on like/share button.”
“But, on the other hand…there are too many anomalies and corruption in the entire system of the third world countries that sometimes we have no other ways but to mobilize public opinion on social network.”
“But again there remain the loopholes of victim blaming and shaming in social network.”
“Yes- there are- but every technology has its good and evil effects.”
“Agree…can we have some tea or coffee when the train arrives at the next station before we evade again to our high heavens in the realm of clouds?’ Rosa smiles heartily.