In May 2019, when a speeding truck rammed into a United Nations vehicle at the Kinshasa area in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, it left four peacekeeping personnel inside seriously injured. One of them was the Additional Inspector General of Police, Rowshan Ara Begum.
Among the four Bangladeshi UN peacekeepers in the vehicle, her injuries were the most grievous. She did not make it to the hospital and died on the spot.
A decorated veteran, Rowshan Ara Begum wasn't just one of the only few high ranking female officials in Bangladesh's police force, she was also the first woman in the history of Bangladesh Police to become an SP or superintendent of police.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina recalled her appointment as SP to Munshiganj in 1998 and how she was impressed by Rowshan Ara's grit in the line of duty.
"There was resistance when I wanted to appoint Rowshan Ara as the first female SP. She dispelled all doubts as soon as she joined duty there. She arrested a dacoit in-person and it was her who put the criminal at gunpoint before making the arrest. I was very proud and told everyone how brave our women can be in police work," said Hasina when addressing a Police Week programme.
Born to parents Ismail Hossain and Amena Begum on January 1, 1962 in a village in Shahrasti Upazila in Chandpur district, Rowshan Ara began her professional police career in 1988.
As she quickly rose through the ranks, her dedication and hard work earned her the distinction of becoming the first female police officer to be appointed a district-level SP in 1998, a position she held until 2000, before going on to serve in different police units as Deputy Commissioner, Additional Commissioner and Acting Commissioner.
In her role as the Munshiganj SP, she became well known for reining in rampant armed robberies on the river. Her police work drastically improved law and order in Munshiganj, according to a local politician.
"Munshiganj was radically changed by her policing, leadership and professionalism," said Advocate Md Golam Mowla, who was joint secretary of Munshiganj district Chhatra League when Rowshan Ara was the SP there.
People were skeptical if a female SP can be tough on crime, and much more doubtful about her abilities to control armed robberies, Mowla told TBS. Everyone thought she would soon be transferred from the pirate inflicted area to somewhere else where she will not have to handle violent criminals as much.
"But when she personally apprehended three or four armed robbers in the Gazaria area, it stunned the local people," said Mowla.
The fabled operation actually involved a heavy gun-battle, according to Rowshan Ara's own account.
"It was a very dark night. I along with my forces and other officers had arrested two groups of armed pirates and recovered all the looted goods after a heavy gun-battle between the pirates and police," Rowshan Ara was quoted as saying in the media.
She also earned a reputation for being uncompromising on tolerating 'cadre politics', which is known for its propensity for hooligan violence. "Both the ruling Awami League and the opposition BNP cadres were afraid of her," according to the former Chhatra League leader.
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She continued to stand out in the police force for her meticulousness in work and showed commitment toward upholding the law. She was awarded the Inspector General Good Services Badge twice for her work in controlling terrorist activities, arresting terrorists, and recovering illegal drugs, arms, and ammunition.
Rowshan Ara was a strong supporter of women's rights. She worked with communities, political leaders, journalists and others to create awareness of violence against women and children, by championing women's rights issues including women's education and combating human trafficking. As recognition, she was awarded the Anannya Award in 1999.
She served as a crime analysis officer in a UN peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, and as Chief-of-Staff of the United Nations Mission in Sudan-The United Nations Police (UNMIS-UNPOL).
She also served as ex-officio President of the Women's Network for UNMIS-UNPOL, an organization consisting of members from 42 countries.
As the President of the Bangladesh Police Women's Network (BPWN), she played an instrumental role in obtaining approval from the government to host the first Asian Regional Women Police Conference of IAWP in 2012.
Dream of first female IGP
Rowshan Ara Begum had a big dream. She believed she could be the first-ever female officer to become the Inspector General, the head of the police force.
She was awarded President Police Medal (PPM), the second-highest award of Bangladesh Police in 2018, and it seemed that she was destined to get the highest recognition within the police force, the Bangladesh Police Medal (BPM).
In her last interview with the media published only two months before her tragic death, Rowshan Ara said, "It is a matter of time that the countrymen will see a female IGP."
Indeed, if someone were to become the first female IGP, it would have been Additional Additional Inspector General of Police, Rowshan Ara Begum, many of her colleagues believe.
A staunch campaigner for more female recruitments, Rowshan Ara advocated for ensuring at least 10 percent female members in the police.
But her untimely and tragic death, only at the age of 57, brought an end to all of her dreams. It shocked her colleagues, who also believed she could be the first female IGP.
One of her colleagues, Farzana Islam, who was with her in the vehicle recalls how her scrupulous work ethic reflected even in seemingly insignificant matters such as sharing food.
"She never accepted food from anyone when she was on duty, not even from her subordinates when she was out somewhere for inspection or visit," said Islam, who also suffered severe injuries in the accident.
Nearly three years since the grisly event, Farzana Islam still feels stricken by the grief of seeing the lifeless body of her commander. "It was very unfortunate to see her dead body," Islam told TBS.
"She believed someday Bangladesh can see a fifty-fifty balance between men and women members in the police force. She also believed one day she will lead Bangladesh Police. The accident took away that dream for hers," said Farzana Islam.