Bangladeshi philosopher, feminist author, and social activist Hasna Begum dead at 85

Hasna Begum, former professor of philosophy at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh, has died. She was known for her work in feminist, social, and moral philosophy, her poetry, and her love and kindness toward others.

Hasna was born on February 24, 1935 in Dhaka in what was then the British Raj. She went to school in Kolkata and Dhaka until her family arranged for her to get married at the age of only thirteen. For the next thirteen years, during which she gave birth to six children, she dedicated all of her time to her family. She then resumed her education and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Dhaka in 1968, followed by a master’s degree from the same university in 1969. In 1978, she was awarded a PhD in Philosophy by Monash University in Australia, where she was the first doctoral advisee of Peter Singer, now the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. For her dissertation, which was later published as a book, she investigated the moral philosophy of British philosopher G. E. Moore.

While in Australia, Hasna was profiled by The Australian Women’s Weekly. The following article appeared on January 16, 1974:

Self-imposed exile is simply a matter of degree

Leaving behind family and friends in Bangla Desh, a grandmother has come to Australia to satisfy her longing for higher education. A very young grandmother, Hasna Begum, who was 36 last month, was married at 13, which is unusual even in Bangla Desh. “Arranged marriages are really no longer the custom in my country now,”…

Upon her return to Bangladesh in 1978, Hasna rejoined the Department of Philosophy at the University of Dhaka. She served the University and its students until her retirement in 2000, including as the Department Chairperson. In 2010, the University Grants Commission of Bangladesh appointed her Rokeya Chair, an honor named after Begum Rokeya, the famed Bengali feminist writer, educator, and activist. Like Rokeya, Hasna too was acutely aware of the ills of society, particularly the oppression of women and children, and an outspoken proponent of social reform.

Hasna was an active scholar and prolific writer. She was a member of a great many academic societies and editorial boards, spoke at conferences on all continents except Antarctica, wrote more than a dozen books and more than fifty academic articles, and translated important philosophical classics into Bangla.

The story of Hasna’s life is one of sacrifice, perseverance, and love of inquiry. Against all odds, she reached the highest echelon of academia and became one of Bangladesh’s most respected intellectuals. She has inspired generations of students, especially women students in Bangladesh, and her memory will inspire generations to come. Contemplating her illustrious career in an autobiographical piece that was published in the Dhaka Courier in 2018, she wrote: “I am satisfied and my heart is at peace. This is all I had yearned and endeavored for.”

Housewife to Professor, by Hasna Begum

Almost everything about my birth as a girl from a middle class family in the subcontinent presaged my life as a dutiful daughter, a good wife and mother. I was the elder of two daughters of Abdul Hafiz, a man of extraordinary scholarly achievement, and his wife Rabeya Khatun, modestly educated but an independent thinker.…

Hasna died from COVID-19 at a hospital in Dhaka on Tuesday, December 1, 2020 at 8.30 a.m. and, shortly after, was buried at Mirpur Martyred Intellectuals’ Graveyard. Only a few months before her death, she talked about her life, work, and activism in this extensive video interview:

I will miss Hasna dearly, and so will everyone who had the privilege of knowing her. Please share your memories of Hasna in the comments section below. Thank you.

2 thoughts on “Bangladeshi philosopher, feminist author, and social activist Hasna Begum dead at 85

  1. Hasna was my first doctoral student advisee — I took over her supervision from retiring Professor Hector Monro when I came to Monash University in 1977. I remember her fondly. She was always a warm and friendly presence around the philosophy department at Monash. I learned a few things about G.E. Moore from working with her on that topic. Her death is sad, of course, but we can take consolation in her long and very successful life. My sympathy for all those she left behind. She was a grandmother when she came to Australia, so she must have been a great-grandmother and perhaps even great-great-grandmother by the time she died.

  2. We really miss the great lady who left behind so many achievements and sweet memories. She will remain in our heart who even met her once.

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