Ruqayyah Hall

DU’s first female dorm got her own building with US assistance

Anika Mahjabin

The first complete building of Rokeya Hall 'Shapla Bhavan'. Photo : Bonik Barta

Ruqayyah Hall is the first full-fledged female dormitory. The first complete building of the dorm was constructed in 1964. At that time, the United States government gave grants to aid the education sector of then East Pakistan. The first complete building 'Shapla' in Ruqayyah Hall was constructed with that grant. For its infrastructural diversity, this structure became the most attractive building of the university at that time.

Mahfuza Khanam, an ex-student, got to stay there as a resident student soon after the hall was inaugurated. In 1966-67, he was elected as the VP of DUCSU (Dhaka University Central Student Union) on nomination from the Student Union. Whether this hall was built with the help of the United States, Mahfuza Khanom told to Bonik Barta, "After admission to the university in 1963, I was accommodated to the staff quarters. It was then known as “Women's Hall”. In my second year, I moved into the main building, which was then known as Ruqayyah Hall. There were Salimullah Muslim Hall, Fazlul Haque Hall, Jagannath Hall, Dhaka Hall, and Iqbal Hall for male students. But the buildings of those halls were two-storied or three-storied. Whereas, the building of Ruqayyah Hall was five-storied. As a resident, such a big establishment was a great joy for us then.

Regarding the US assistance, she said, "The government and DU authorities wanted to build the hall. The US government wants to lend a hand. The then East Pakistan government wanted the US grant to be allotted to Ruqayyah Hall. As the number of female students was more than the housing system available so new Bhavan was an urgent call. The girls then mainly lived in Chameli House and another building. That was not sufficient enough. That is why the grant that came from the US was allotted to the Ruqayyah Hall of DU.

At present, Ruqayyah Hall has Chameli Bhavan, Aparajita Bhavan, and 7 March Bhavan besides Shapla Bhavan. The total number of female students in 520 rooms in four buildings is about 2,700. However, the total number of students attached; including residents and non-residents is seven thousand. Current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Deputy Leader of National Parliament Matia Chowdhury, and Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chowdhury were also resident students of Ruqayyah Hall. Along with them, thousands of former students of this hall are spread in different parts of the country and beyond.

Ruqayyah Hall was initiated by the second Vice-Chancellor of the University, Professor George Harry Langley. In 1926, he arranged accommodation for girls in bungalow number 17 of the Ramna area by naming it 'Chameri House'. After a long journey, that residence turned into a hall.

Fazilatunnesa, an ex-DU student got the opportunity to stay as the first resident student in Chameri House. In the first year of its existence, the total number of residential students was six. Later, Chameri House was replaced by Huda House. The old Zamindar house was built with fine woodwork. That female hostel later came to be known as 'Huda House' or 'Chameli House'. The present office room of Ruqayyah Hall was formerly the old student hostel, which was recognized as a hall for female students in September 1956 as 'Women's Hall'. Then educationists Shamsunnahar Mahmud and Poet Sufia Kamal called for the hall to be renamed after Ruqayyah Sakhawat Hossain, a pioneer of women's awakening and education in the subcontinent. On the 2nd November 1964, the hall's name was changed to 'Ruqayyah Hall'.

The hall's first own building was constructed in 1964. This five-storied building, built with the assistance of the US, is now known as 'Shapla Bhavan'. Zeenat Huda, the current provost of the hall herself was a resident student of Ruqayyah Hall. She told Bonik Barta, "Due to its infrastructural diversity, Shapla Bhaban, built with the help of the US at that time, was very attractive to everyone, the touch of modernity can be felt everywhere. There is a huge room under the building, which is also a manifestation of modernity. As a student, we could arrange all kinds of cultural events in this room on the ground floor. The bricks of the balcony of the building are arranged with a gap in between. And there were balconies encompassing the whole structure. As a result, air could move easily. An elevator was added to the building and an attached bathroom was also there in each room. Now you may think, what else are these? But in the sixties, it was a spectacular development indeed.'

Translated by
Sabidin Ibrahim

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