Jahanara Imam was a Bangladeshi writer and political activist. She is known for her efforts to bring those accused of committing war crimes in the Bangladesh Liberation War to trial. Let us remember her on the occasion of her birthday.
Jahanara Imam was born on 3 May 1929 in Murshidabad, West Bengal in then British India. After finishing her studies at Carmichael College in Rangpur, Jahanara went to Lady Brabourne College of Calcutta University and in 1947 obtained her bachelor’s degree. She was an activist at Lady Brabourne College. After the partition of India, she joined her family in Mymensingh in what became East Pakistan and started teaching at Vidyamoyee Govt. Girls High School.
In 1948, she married Shariful Alam Imam Ahmed. They settled in Dhaka and she joined Siddheswari Girls School as Head Mistress. She was instrumental in transforming the school into one of the top girls’ schools in Dhaka. Imam spent a significant part of her life in education. She visited the US in 1964–65 as a Fulbright Scholar at the University of San Diego and again in 1977 under the International Visitor Program at the invitation of the US Government.
In 1971, following the Pakistan army crackdown on 25 March, the Bangladesh Liberation War broke out. Many joined the liberation struggle, including Jahanara’s elder son. During the war, she wrote a diary about her feelings about the struggle. In 1986 she published her wartime diary Ekatturer Dinguli (The Days of Seventy-One). Imam’s diary, in some respect like that of Anne Frank, was a very personal account of the tragedy. Her simple style of writing touched many hearts, particularly those of the families who had lost members during the war.
After Bangladesh achieved independence, Imam started her literary career. During this time she also traveled extensively to Europe, the USA, and Canada. Early in her career, Jahanara Imam also translated several books from English into Bengali, including some of the popular “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.
She was awarded the Bangla Academy Literary Award (1991) and Independence Day Award (1997). She died on 26 June 1994. Her death anniversary is observed in Bangladesh.