Chandraprabha Saikiani : The leading Light in Feminist Movement in Assam
Chandraprabha Saikiani, a born leader, nay, a born feminist, was the 17 th daughter of a proud village headman in the far-flung Doisingiri village in Kamrup district in Assam. She was born on March 16, 1901. It was her nearly single-handed pioneering of the movement for emancipation of women in the Northeast India that immortalized her. Since her ideas were way ahead of their time, she obviously had few takers of her thoughts. She was, however, one who knows how to wade through anything when going gets tough.
There was no girls school in her locality. She and her younger sister would wade through waist-deep water and knee-deep mud for miles to attend a boys school. They had to slog their guts out to be successful in life. The general belief that women are inferior to men what she had been fighting against, right from her childhood. During her days, education was a bastion of male chauvinism. For her, that Women too have equal right to education was not just an idea. She had put that idea into practice, and translated it into reality. She used to exhort her younger sister, Rajaniprabha to pursue a medical career. The result? In Rajaniprabha people got the first lady doctor of Assam and the entire Northeast.
Even though the odds were heavily, against her, she started an LP school for girl children at her remote village when she was just 13 years old. Her holy aim was to rescue the rural women from their daily domestic drudgery, educate them and make them good mothers, capable enough to nurture a healthy future generation. She could successfully initiate the rural womenfolk to India's struggle for independence.
The famous slogan against the use of drugs -Just Say No- was coined by Britain and the USA in 1980. Believe it or not, as a minor student she led a crusade against opium at least half-a-century before the West, though she coined no slogan of her 2 war. Stirred by her fiery speech at the Asam Sahitya Sabha session, the premier and largest literary body in Assam, at Nagaon in 1925, a number of women in Assam discarded the purdah system and raised their demand for their social rights. From that very day the women of Assam have done away with the purdah system. She founded the Assam Pradeshik Mahila Samity, her brainchild, in 1926. This biggest and oldest women organization in Assam has its deep-spreading roots in every villages and panchayat in the state. Under her guidance, the Samity took up issues of education and social rights for women. In fact, the credit for the concept of Mahila Samity in this part of the world goes to her.
Chandraprabha Saikiani, perhaps, is also the first woman in Assam to have delivered a public speech during the freedom struggle. A passionate and committed Saikiani was one of the leading lights in India’s struggle for Independence.
They say truth is stranger than fiction and the life of Saikiani is a perfect example of this. One is thoroughly amazed when one reads Abhiyatri a novel based on the life of Late Saikiani, authored by writer Nirupama Borgohain. The Novel won the prestigious Sahitya Akademi and other awards sometime in 1996. It is quite amazing how an unmarried girl (as there was no formal marriage) gave birth to a child in a remote and orthodox village in Kamrup district in Assam way back in 1922. Things did end there. She brought up the boy, gave him right education and make him a man who led thousands of people so as make them live with heads held high. That’s not all. It was that boy. Late Atul Chandra Saikia, who took active part in the struggle for independence of India and represented the Guwahati Legislative Assembly Constituency (LAC) in the Assam Assembly. Late Saikia was one of the most respected trade union Leaders in the nation, and likes of him from Assam in the national arena are rare even today. Late Saikia represented Indian workers in ILO and other forums several times. A few years ago, Sahitya Akademi published the English translation of this novel with the title Abhijatri – One Life many Rivers. It was followed by Bengali and Nepali renderings of the novel. The National Book Trust of 3 India published the biography of this remarkable woman, written by another noted freedom fighter Padmabhusan Pushpalata Das, in the national biography series. In what can best be called a fitting tribute to her dead, the Government of India issued a Commemorative Postage Stamp in 2002 on the on the occasion of her birth centenary. This is not all. The All India Radio, Guwahati broadcast a ten-episode drama on the life of this epitome of feminists on the occasion of her Birth Centenary year in 2001-02. It deserves a special mention that Late Saikiani is the only female among the 20 greatest Assamese of the 20 th Century as reported in a survey conducted in January 2000 by Gariyoshi, a magazine of the Premier Assam Tribune group of newspapers in the North East. The list has names of the likes of greatest Assamese Lakshminath Bezbaruah, Krishna Kanta Handique, Jyotiprasad agarwala and Maestro Bhupen Hazarika. This is indeed a milestone set for the women of the land- locked region. A number of tele-films/documentary films were also made on her life by different film-makers. The Doordars han, North East, recently telecast a five-episode serial on the novel, Abhijatri in Assamese with English sub- titles, in the dramatized format.
On the occasion of her birth centenary year, the Government of Assam instituted an award for social work in her name, though the conferment of the award is not that regular. The Government of Assam renamed the oldest and prestigious girls’ technical institute of Assam, the Girls’ Polytechnic, Guwahati in her name in her birth centenary year. Apart from this, Tezpur University, a Central University, named its centre of women’s studies in her name. The university also has a building named after her with her bust installed in front of it.