Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra may not be a household name in Bangladesh. But he is still widely regarded as the greatest writer in Spanish Language and one of the world’s pre-eminent novelists. The 17th century writer’s major work Don Quixotes is considered to be the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age and the entire Spanish literary canon. Don Quixote is a character who set out on a voyage to revive chivalry, to undo wrongs and to bring justice to the world.
To mark the 400th death anniversary of the great Spanish writer, the Spanish Embassy in Dhaka and its partner Bengal Foundation last month honoured 10 Quijotas of Bangladesh (female version of Quixote) for the first time. On this occasion, a virtual photo exhibition titled ‘Quijotas en Bangladesh’ was also organised on January 20, where the idealistic view and ability to pursue battles by these women, were depicted.
The list includes such personalities as Nishat Majumder, who was the first Bangladeshi female to conquer the Everest. Nishat tells New Age Xtra, ‘It’s nice to be branded as one of the Quijotas en Bangladesh’. ‘I had no idea about Don Quixote until I got a call from the Embassy. When I came to know the detail I felt thrilled,’ adds Nishat.
Along with her, Bangladesh’s first ever female photographer Syeda Khanam, artist and the co-founder of Britto Arts Trust Tayeba Begum Lipi and Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority member Shahana Afroz and environmentalist Syeda Rizwana Hasan received the awards. Also awarded were Non Government Organisation Tarango’s CEO Kohinoor Yeasmin, Amena Begum, a house wife, Nazma Akter, who dedicated 27 years of her life to the cause of garment workers, Krishna Rani Sarker, captain of the Bangladesh Under-16 women’s football team and cricket coach Parvin Nasima Nahar.
Amena Begum, a house wife and mother of three, is responsible for managing a herd of 20 cattle and is the primary breadwinner for her family. She made the list as a symbol of thousands of those indomitable ladies who are slugging it out with the odds against them every day but seldom get the recognition.
Kohinoor Yeasmin, the chief executive officer of Tarango, leads a workforce of 12,000 women spread across Bangladesh. Tarango produces handicraft items.
Syeda Khanam , a female photographer, began her journey from a very early age when her sister bought her a Rolleicord camera. Although, she never received any institutional training in photography, she began her career as a photojournalist in the Begum newspaper in 1956. She worked for several national newspapers and covered many national and international seminars. She had the opportunity of working as a photographer with Oscar winning filmmaker Satyajit Ray, Queen Elizabeth, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Mother Teresa, Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In 1960, she received award in All Pakistan Photo Contest and in 1985, she was honoured with the UNESCO award for photography.
Bangladesh’s another Quijota is Under-16 football team captain Krishna Rani Sarker, who along with her companions have defied all odds to become regional champion in the Under-16 Women’s Asian Championship. With very little to no help, this malnourished girl united a band of underprivileged girls from her neighbourhood to form a formidable team.
Anyone discussing the history of ultrasound and nuclear medicine in Bangladesh will also mention the name of Professor Shahana Afroz, a pioneer in this discipline in Bangladesh. After graduating from Dhaka Medical College in 1979, she left for India to complete her Masters in Nuclear Medicine. After completing her degree, she returned to Bangladesh.
In 1986, while shrugging off all lucrative jobs, she only stood by her fellow citizens who really needed the help of her knowledge. Despite, infrastructural deficiencies, she worked for more than two decades helping thousands of patients in Bangladesh. After achieving her PhD from the University of Dhaka in 2003, she became the Chairman of the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission in 2014.