believe in paradise is easy, but imagining it is not. Poets and prophets have
had to show us the way. Buddha performed enlightenment, an existence without
suffering. The Vikings dreamed up Valhalla, hall of dead heroes battling by day
and feasting by night for eternity. Dante famously described a heaven ruled by
reason--- the list goes on, with each paradise based on different conceptions of
God, reality, salvation and delight.”--- Sho Spaeth.
Amalprabha Das paradise meant rendering service to the suffering humanity. She
created her heaven at a hermitage atop the Sarania Hills, from where, following
in the footsteps of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, she served women, children,
Harijans and the downtrodden of society. In 1934 when Mahatma Gandhi came to
Assam in connection with the Harijian Movement he stayed at the residence of
Amalprabha’s father, Dr Harikrishna Das. Amalprabha, then a young girl, had
opportunity to observe Gandhi’s work and lifestyle from very close quarters, and
it left such a deep impression in her mind that she decided to dedicate her life
to the service of the nation.
was an amiable lady with a mind of steel. In 1927, having been denied admission
in the Cotton College since no girl had been admitted till then, she went to
Calcutta to pursue higher studies. There she obtained her MSc degree in Applied
Chemistry, earning her the unique distinction of the first Assamese lady to
obtain a postgraduate degree. On her return to Guwahati she was offered a
teaching job in the same college that had earlier denied her admission. But by then
she had been baptized into the nationalist into the nationalist spirit and
refused to serve in a college run by the British government.
Amalprabha and her illustrious mother Hemaprabha Das stayed at the Maganbari
Centre of Self-development at Wardha for three months in order to acquaint
themselves with Gandhiji’s village reform movement. Imbued with community
development spirit, mother and daughter returned home and set up indigenous
cottage industries in their Sarania Hills land. They started bee preservation
for extracting honey, making soaps and paper, extracting oil from oilseeds etc.
Weaving got special emphasis. Gradually the hermitage became a center of
excellence in spreading the Gandhian concept of gramudyog in the
Kasturba Gandhi’s death in 1944, Gandhi wished to spread the work of the
newly-formed Kasturba Gandhi Memorial Trust in every nook and corner of the
country and he chose Amalprabha for the task in this region. Harikrishna Das
decided to donate his Sarania Hills property to the Trust. Since after that, the
hilltop hermitage has been called the Kasturba Ashram.
9, 1946 Gandhi came to Guwahati and stayed in the ashram for three days. A small
Assam-type structure was constructed for his stay which exists till date. During
Gandhi’s visit, at the initiative of the Kasturba Trust, the Gram Sevika
Vidyalya was established and dedicated to the nation.
twenty-one gram sevika kendras were established in different parts of the
region, including Arunachal Pradesh. During the 1950 tremors hundreds of
volunteers of the Kasturba Ashram and gram seva kendras rendered yeoman
service to people. The same year, at the ashram’s initiative, the Gauhati Katai
Mandal was established to strengthen the concept of self-help and gramudyog.
Two years later Amalprabha began the Guwahati Yubak Sevadal with school and
college students in order to emancipate and rehabilitate the Harijans. It was
this movement that was instrumental in establishing the Harijan Colony the
Solabeel area in the heart of town.
Bhave came to Assam in course of the Bhoodaan movement, the Kasturba Trust
volunteers arranged the entire program under Amalprabha’s supervision. It was in
Assam that the Bhoodan movement took the concrete shape of gramdaan. The
draft of the first Gramdaan Act was prepared by the Kasturba Trust, Guwahati and
presented to the Government of Assam. This was passed into a law within a short
time due to the untiring efforts of Amalprabha. After Mahendra Mohan Lahiri
donated 100 bighas of land in Guwahati towards Bhoodaan, Amalprabha also
started work of the Assam Goseva Samiti.
death Amalprabha was the heart and soul of the ashram. Although born with a
silver spoon in her mouth, she had no attachment to power, position or pelf and
could thus gracefully decline the Padmabibhusaan award. Even today inmates of
the ashram hold her values close to the heart. And it is this that elevates them
to their paradise.