In January of 1964, Khaleda Shahriar Kabir (Dora), Manowara Begum and Shirin Sultana (Chumki) made a decision to study engineering at the most prestigious engineering school in East Pakistan – the East Pakistan University of Engineering and Technology, currently Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet).
There was one problem, though. Even though Buet's architecture department had been admitting female students before 1964, women were not allowed in any of the other engineering subjects.
Professor MA Rashid, the founding vice-chancellor of Buet and a lifelong faculty member of the university's civil engineering department, was strictly against admitting women.
"The Buet authorities did not grant us admission to any of the university's engineering disciplines. They feared that it would stir a backlash from the conservative society. The authorities wanted to protect us from that," Dora said.
"We asked the Buet administration to show us if the constitution bars women from studying engineering in Buet. We asked them to let us sit for the entrance exam because we knew that we were capable of passing the test," she told TBS.
The administration did not budge. But, neither did Dora, Manowara and Chumki.
"Chumki and I met while we were higher secondary school students at Eden Mohila College. Manowara was a student of Holy Cross College, and she contacted us after she learned of our plan to be admitted to Buet," Dora said.
Dr Rashid finally relented, but on the condition that the three girls will not be studying civil engineering, aiming to protect them from the extensive field work required for the course.
"The society back then was like that. We could not do much about it other than slowly lift the barriers and eventually eradicate them," said Dora.
"We ended up agreeing to Dr Rashid's conditions. The three of us enrolled at Buet and with that we started off the first semester of the first year as engineering students," she added.
"Back then, students were not required to enrol in a specific department. Rather, we studied general engineering subjects in the first year. The second year was when we were required to finalise our disciplines."
Born in a family of civil engineers, Dora had a lifelong dream of becoming one herself. Now, so close to realising her dream, she was still so far because of Dr Rashid's condition that she had to abide by.
As the first year came to an end, Dora and Chumki started off their second year by choosing to study electrical engineering. Manowara was left behind as she failed a course and had to retake the first semester.
"We were not enjoying our subjects at all. We got into Buet so we could study civil engineering, but luck was not favouring us.
"But we knew this was the discipline we wanted to study. And that is when I knew I had to do something about it," Dora said.
Dora and Chumki decided to go talk to Dr Rashid again. But the VC refused again, arguing that they will not get their families' permission to go to Savar for the month-long residential semester.
But the girls soon came back with permission from their families, leaving Dr Rashid no choice but to allow them to study civil engineering.
"Both Chumki's and my families permitted us to attend the semester away from home without question. When we told Dr Rashid about this, he did not have any other option but to let us study civil engineering," Dora said, proudly.
Manowara, however, chose to study chemical engineering. But with their major subjects finalised, Dora, Manowara and Chumki became the first female engineering students of Buet.
They became campus superstars. Crowds gathered to see them in the classrooms and outside.
"All the attention we got after enrolling in civil engineering was, at times, too much for us to take. Manowara fell behind two years because of all the distractions. Neither of us could study properly. Strangers would knock on our doors and ask to see us – as if we were some sort of supernatural beings," said Dora.
Buet had no dormitories for female students at the time, so arrangements were made for Manowara and Chumki to stay at the Rokeya Hall.
To Dora, the Buet of the 1960's was very different, dream-like even compared to now. "Buet back then was a piece of paradise for us. There was no ragging, no taunting or teasing, and the few female students were treated with great respect. Buet is still one of the best institutions in the country, but much has changed since I graduated.
"During those days, we walked back home at night from the campus and never felt unsafe."
But many years later when her daughter attended Buet, she did not feel safe enough for her daughter to commute alone to and from the campus.
After Dora and Chumki graduated from Buet in 1968, and Manowara in 1970, many women found motivation in their story and applied for admission to Buet for engineering subjects which women were not allowed to study before these three trailblazers.
Dora went on to serve as the additional director general of the Water Development Board (WDB), where she was for 34 years before retiring as one of the executive members of the board's Retired Engineers' Association.
Chumki worked as a public health engineer for two years after graduating from Buet. She left for Canada after marrying in 1970. She and her husband relocated to the US after a few years. Chumki currently resides in New Jersey, in the US, with her family.
Manowara joined the Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC) after graduation and was with the organisation for 32 years as a high-ranking engineer until her death in 2002 due to diabetes-related complications. Her husband was a chartered accountant who had gone missing during the 1975 military coup d'état.