A festival exclusively for women was something divergent one could think of in a small district town like Jhalokati, and a hidebound group also made an issue out of it.
But five women organizers, who have been dubbed "Panchakanya" by the residents of the district town, have made it happen defying the odds.
First of its kind in the country, "Kanya Utsav" was successfully held at Jhalokati Government Horchandra Girls' School on Friday. The school premises went abuzz with some 2,000 bright women who were once students of different education institutions in the district.
When the program was announced, a conservative local organization named Bangladesh Adarsha Samaj Bastobayon Parishad had gone furious. The organisation's cheif Alhajj Khalilur Rahman Nesarabadi opposed the idea and threatened to spoil the program, saying it would create scopes for obscenity.
However, the organizers – Jhalokati District Council Member Sharmin Mousumi Keka, Jhalokati Sadar Upazila Women Affairs Officer Nasrin Jahan, Jhalokati Municipality Councillor Nasima Kamal, Kirtipasha Government Primary School Headmistress Shimul Sultana Happy and Syedunnesa Government Girls' School Headmistress Jafrin Jahan – did not give in.
Finally, the opponents were appeased when the organizers agreed to cancel a planned beauty pageant from the festival.
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony as the chief guest, Industries Minister Amir Hossain Amu said: “A group tried to impede the advancement using religion as an excuse. But Awami League's ascension to power has bettered the lot of women. The progress of women cannot be held back by giving excuses of religion anymore.”
Kanya Utsav Convenor Sharmin said it was a dream come true for the organizers to arrange the festival. “From now on, it will be held every year in Jhalokati.”
Thirteenth women were conferred the award of "Sofol Kanya" (successful women) in the program while an honourary posthumous award was conferred to Aklima Moazzem, mother of Amir Hossain Amu.
International Women of Courage Award winner Sharmin Akter was conferred an honourary award for her role in battling child marriage.
Nine prospective mothers were also awarded in the program.
A cultural performance by noted folk singer and Awami League MP Momtaz Begom followed the discussion and award distribution.