Shirin Akhter (1940-2016)

It is with great sorrow that we announce the demise of Professor Shirin Akhter, former Board Member and founder of the Bangladesh Chapter of IFRWH. On May 21, 2016, Professor Akhter breathed her last due to cardiac arrest after a surgery that her frail health could not sustain.

Professor Shirin Akhter was born on March 31, 1940, in Ishwardi, Pabna, a district in northern Bangladesh. Her father was Mafizuddin Ahmed and mother was Begum Hamida Banu. Her father was a philanthropist and established schools for girls and boys in his area. He encouraged his daughters to pursue higher education in an age when social norm still demanded that girls be married off before they finish higher secondary school.

Professor Akhter completed her Bachelor’s degree with Honours in the Department of Islamic History and Culture of Rajshahi University and then moved to Dhaka to do her Master’s from the Department of Islamic History and Culture in 1958 from the University of Dhaka. She began her teaching career in 1959 as a lecturer in Islamic History and Culture in Barisal Women’s College. The next year, in 1960, she joined as Assistant Lecturer in the History Department of Jahangirnagar University, Dhaka. She went to England to pursue post-graduate education and received her Ph.D. degree from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University, in 1973. The publication of her Ph.D. dissertation titled The Role of the Zamindars (Landed Aristocracy) in Bengal: 1707-1772 in 1982 won her acclaim as a scholar. Until her retirement from the post of professor from the university in 2006, Professor Akhter has published numerous articles in English and the vernacular and edited several books which are her everlasting contribution to academia.

In 1995, while attending the CISH conference in Montreal, she came across some literature about IFRWH and felt like she should be a part of it. This chance encounter began a life-long passion for her. She formed the Bangladesh national committee that same year and since then, attended every conference of the IFRWH, representing the Bangladesh Chapter, first as General Secretary, then as President. She was Board member from 2005 to 2015. She attended the Jinan Conference of IFRWH in her extremely frail condition “just to see everyone for the last time,” to put it in her own words.

Professor Shirin Akhter was married to Professor Mohammad Mahibullah, a member of the faculty in the Zoology department at the same university where she had worked all her life. The couple was childless but she has left behind numerous devoted students, admiring colleagues and a host of nephews and nieces to mourn her, who loved and respected her for her undying quest for knowledge, her indomitable spirit and her ability to spread love and warmth wherever she went. She will always be remembered as a pillar of strength, source of wisdom and a fountain of affection by her students, colleagues, friends and relatives. May God rest her in eternal peace.

Asha Islam