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Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain was born into a Bengali Muslim upper-class family in the small village of Pairaband in the district of Rangpur north of present day Bangladesh then a part of the colonial British province of Bengal Presidency Hossain 37 The exact date of her birth is still unknown since no specific records have been kept Her mother was Rahatunnessa Sabera Chowdhurani the first of four wives that her Rokeyas father had Not much is known of her except for the memory of a rigid conformity to purdah Her father Zahiruddin Mohammad Abu Ali Saber a well-educated influential large landowner otherwise known as a zemindar -- whose massive estate was a stronghold for the traditional way of life Hossain 37 He has also been understood to have learned and known seven different languages Rokeya also had two brothers and two sisters Being boys her brothers were first educated at home as was the tradition then sent to St Xaviers one of Calcuttas most prestigious colleges Rokeya and her sisters only received traditional educations at home As it was the tradition in high-class Muslim families girls learned to read Arabic so as to be able to read the Koran and Urdu in order to read the popular books on feminine conduct Girls were kept from learning Bengali and English precisely because they were spoken by non-Muslims as well Going against the grain though Rokeyas oldest brother who was exposed to Western education was in favor of educating women He secretly taught Rokeya English and Bengali at home Throughout her life it was the waste of human potential that haunted Rokeya and it strengthened her to fight against the blind observance of customs she considered absurd Hossain 38 In 1896 Ibrahim was instrumental in the family marrying off Rokeya at age 16 to a widower in his late 30s Syed Sakhawat Hossain who was then a district magistrate in the Bihar region of Bengal Presidency Ibrahim was
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