Nawab Begum Faizunnesa Choudhurani (Bengali: নওয়াব বেগম ফয়জুন্নেসা চৌধুরানী; 1834–1903) was Zamindar of Homnabad-Pashchimgaon Estate in present-day Comilla District, Bangladesh. She is most famous for her campaign for female education and other social issues. In appreciation of her social work, in 1889 Queen Victoria awarded Faizunnesa the title of “Nawab“, making her the first female Nawab in South Asia.
Faizunnesa’s educational and literary work belonged to the post-1857 era when Muslims in India started having the full thrust of colonial acrimony and were at the nadir of deprivation and discrimination. Faizunnesa embarked on establishing schools for women in that cultural context. Metaphorically, she sought to rescue the community from the menace of despair and pessimism by portraying a Muslim hero in Rupjalal and thus gave them hope and confidence.
An advocate of female education, a philanthropist and social worker, Faizunnesa was born in Comilla in what is now Bangladesh. She was married to a distant cousin and neighbouring zamindar, Muhammad Gazi, in 1860 as his second wife only to be separated after mothering two daughters, Arshadunnesa and Badrunnesa. She became a zamindar after her mother’s death in 1883 and became increasingly involved in social and charitable work, and thus in 1889 earned the honour of being the first woman Nawab of British India. She penned few other literary pieces such as Sangeet Saar, Sangeet Lahari and Tattwa O Jatiya Sangeet, and is renowned for her pioneering educational and charitable work and establishing of schools, madrasas and hospitals. However, Rupjalal has remained her most important work and attracted more research and critical attention.
Chowdhurani was born in 1834 in the village of Pashchimgaon under Laksham in the district of Comilla. Her father was Ahmed Ali Chowdhury also known as Shahzada Mirza Aurangazeb, Nawab, Khan Bahadur, the zamindar of Homnabad-Pashchimgaon estate. Their family were descendants of the Mughal emperors via a paternal niece of Bahadur Shah I.
Faizunnessa was raised in a conservative Muslim family, where the women would maintain a strict purdah system. She received no formal education but she educated herself in her library during leisure time. She was proficient in Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit and Bengali language. In 1860, Chowdhurani was married to a distant cousin and neighbouring Zamindar, Muhammad Gazi, becoming his second wife. But the couple became separated and Faizunnesa began to live with her paternal family.
After her mother’s death in 1883, Faizunnesa inherited her property and became zamindar of Pashchimgaon. She became increasingly involved in social work after becoming zamindar. In 1873, Faizunnesa Choudhurani established a high school for girls in Comilla, which is one of the earliest female schools privately established in Indian subcontinent, which is now called Nawab Faizunnesa Government Girls’ High School. She also founded a school at Pashchimgaon that was later upgraded to a college and now named as Nawab Faizunnesa Degree College. In 1893, Faizunnesa established a charitable dispensary in her village for women in purdah, particularly destitute women. She also built a hospital for women, Faizunnesa Zenana Hospital in Comilla. In addition, she built mosques and contributed towards the development of roads and ponds. Faizunnesa patronised different newspapers and periodicals, including Bandhab, Dhaka Prakash, Musalman Bandhu, Sudhakar, and Islam Pracharak. Before her death in 1903 she donated her entire property to the nation.