The matriarch lives on

By the time she died at age 89 on 20 November, Begum Sufia Kamal had accomplished what would take more ordinary folks many lifetimes. One of the earliest Muslim Bengalee women poets, Begum Sufia was also probably the first Muslim woman in the world to have taken a plane ride (in 1928), and that too in a burqah. She was part of almost all the progressive women's movements of her time, both in pre-independent India and Bangladesh. She was an inspiration to many women politicians, but was never affiliated to any party, and this in a partisan land, is saying something.

In the last 15 years, she had been the fragile but unrelenting leader of political movements whether it was in bringing down the unpopular rule of General H.M. Ershad, or in leading the streets to demand a trial of the killers and rapists during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence. Yet she was a far cry from the typical image of the hardened revolutionary. Frail and nearly blind for decades, she had a soft sing-song voice in which she felt comfortable discussing recipes as much as in voicing daring resolve to never forgive the ones who violated women and killed children.

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Himal Southasian