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CHANDRAPRABHA SAIKIANI (1901-1971)


Chandraprabha Sakiani was an activist and reformer. She was born Chandrapriya Majumdar in the village of Daisingiri in Assam, the seventh child of Ratiram and Gangapriya Majumdar, and had a sister, Rameswari (later Rajaniprabha). She chose the name ‘Chandraprabha Saikiani’ for herself. The two girls would wade through waist deep mud every day to study in a boys’ school several kilometres away, as there was no girls’ school. Chandraprabha won a medal on completing primary school, but she and her sister could not continue their education any further in the village. Their enthusiasm impressed Nilkanta Barua, a school sub-inspector, and he arranged for them to study and stay at the hostel at Nagaon Mission School. There Chandraprabha’s fiery nature manifested itself, as she several times protested the high handed treatment of the girls by the missionaries, who would punish girls who refused to convert.

In 1919 Chandraprabha was the only female delegate at the Assam Chhatra Sammelan at Tezpur, but she spoke eloquently on the need to ban the opium trade. She started a small school for girls near Nagaon. In 1925 she attended the Asom Sahitya Sabha at Nagaon. The practice was for women to sit separately and listen from behind a screen while the men talked. Chandraprabha stood up and launched a scathing attack on this practice, deriding the women for allowing such restrictions to be put on them. The women were so inspired that they pulled down the screens. The following year she set up the Asom Pradeshik Mahila Samiti, and launched it at Dhubri right after the Asom Sahitya Sabha session held there that year. This organization campaigned for women’s and child rights including education and freedom from harassment. It put an end to child marriage in Assam and campaigned against dowry. Chandraprabha also allied with the Congress and was active in the Civil Disobedience Movement of 1932, going to jail then and again in the Non Cooperation Movement of 1942-43.

Chandraprabha then met and fell in love with the writer Dandinath Kalita, with whom she had a son, Atul. They never married, and Chandraprabha had to face social stigma for being an unwed mother. Nevertheless she brought up her son with great fortitutde and courage, and Dandinath supported her with small amounts of money as far as he was able, though he married another woman. The Assamese novelist Nirupama Borgohain wrote Abhiyatri (1999), a fictionalized account of Chandraprabha’s life, translated by Pradipto Borgohain into English. The book won a Sahitya Akademi Award. In 1972 Chandraprabha was awarded the Padma Shri shortly before her death.
 
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