The leader of women’s liberation movement Chandraprabha
Saikiani was in real sense a rebellious flame of fire. She is known as the
'Agni Kanya’. Her life was full of ups and downs. She had to fight against
society’s injustice towards the women in social, political and economic
aspects. She had motherly compassion towards the down-trodden sections of
the society. The leader of the women’s liberation movement, Chandraprabha
Saikiani was a social worker, literature and a fearless freedom fighter.
She played a revolutionary role in many activities related to social
Chandraprabha was born on 16"‘March, 1901 in remote
Daisingari village of Kamrup district. Her father’s name was Ratiram and
the name of her mother was Gangapriya. Their title was Majumdar. Both of
them were religious minded persons. Honesty and attitude of fearlessness
were the characteristic features of Chandraprabha.
Chandraprabha completed her primary education in 1911
and received a silver medal for her extraordinary talents. In those days
there were no girls’ schools for higher education. Therefore she had to
admit herself in a boys’ M.V. School at Kaithalmari. The school was
situated far away from her village. Chandraprabha and her younger sister
Rajaniprabha had to cross a small stream on their way to the school. But
destiny helped Chandraprabha. The school inspector Nilkanta Baruah one day
came to inspect the school. When he came to know about the talents of the
two sisters, he granted them scholarships to study in Nagaon Mission
School. Chandraprabha's rebellion started in this school.
A girl from a very poor Hindu family of a distant
village was also a student of that school. The school superintendent asked
the girl to convert her religion. The girl did not agree to convert
herself to Christianity. As a result she was compelled to stay in a go
down as a punishment. Chandraprabha could not tolerate this injustice.
With full support of her classmates Chandraprabha protested the injustice
done to that poor girl. The superintendent Miss Long had to reinstate the
girl in the hostel.
At a very early age Chandraprabha set up a school at a
place named Akaya near her village. Later on she became the Headmistress
of an M.V. School at Tezpur.
In 1918, the meeting of Assam Chhatra Sammilan was held
in Tezpur. During that period the status of women in the male- dominated
society was very low. In that meeting Chandraprabha demanded with a strong
voice for prohibition of opium. That was her first speech in a public
meeting and incidentally that was also the first public speech delivered
by a woman in the male- dominated society.
Chandraprabha's married life was not a long one. She
was married to renowned litterateur Dandi Nath Kalita through Gandharva
procedure. As that was an inter caste marriage the leaders of the society
protested. In spite of their hue and cry, Chandraprabha remained unmoved
and wrote about that event in an Assamese newspaper published during that
period. As a result of the protest from the society Kalita had to leave
Chandraprabha and married another girl. After that Chandraprabha went away
with her child Atul. She changed her title to Saikiani. Such was her
In 1925, the conference of the Asom Sahitya Sabha was
held in Nagaon under the Presidentship of Upanyas Samrat Rajanikanta
Bordoloi. Chandraprabha was sitting on the dias with other dignitaries.
The women present in the conference were sitting with veils on the other
side of the bamboo curtain so that the males could not see them.
Chandraprabha felt that the women were sitting in the manner as if some
animals had been kept inside the cage. When she stood up to deliver her
lecture she roared like a lioness and called the women to come forward
protesting this injustice. Her call was so much touching that all the
women present in the meeting immediately responded to her call and by
breaking the bamboo curtain came to the open ground.
In 1926, the Asom Pradeshik Mahila Samiti was formed
with the pioneering efforts of Chandraprabha Saikiani. As a founder
secretary she had to work hard for the newly born Samiti. She started
visiting villages and set up branches. Under her strong leadership a few
enthusiastic women with leadership qualities came out from the four
boundaries of house and took the responsibilities to nurture the
organization as their own child.
At present the Asom Pradeshik Mahila Samiti is a well
organized organization with a large number of branches scattered in urban
and rural areas. The democratic organization, holding its head high with
pride has been rendering immense services to the society. In this context
the pioneering efforts of Chandraprabha Saikiani to establish the
organization must be remembered. She showed the path to the women of then
Assam under the British rule, by appearing like a polar star in the
horizon of the chained, dependent, neglected women’s society. She
discharged her duties quite efficiently as the secretary of the Samiti
till 1963 and after that she was installed in the chair of the president.
In 1969, she took retirement from the post of Presidentship on health
ground. However she engaged herself in various activities of the Samiti
till her death as an advisor.
Perhaps Chandraprabha was the first Assamese woman who
used bicycle as conveyance in those days. It was really unimaginable that
Chandraprabha during those days riding on her bicycle went from one
village to another village, rendering welfare see/nes to the community.
Chandraprabha met Mahatma Gandhi in 1921 at Tezpur. She
was highly impressed by the personality of this great man of India and as
a result she joined the non-cooperation movement led by Gandhiji. After
the formation of Asom Pradeshik Mahila Samiti in 1926, under the
leadership of Chandraprabha Saikiani, the Samiti started giving attention
to the myriad problems of women and took part in the various works of
social reforms of Gandhiji like abolition of child marriage, untouchables,
etc. Chandraprabha resigned from the service to play active role in
India’s freedom movement. In response to Gandhiji’s call for non-use of
foreign clothes, Chandraprabha started wearing Khaddar.
Towards the end of 1929, the civil disobedience
movement was started under the leadership of Gandhiji.Chandraprabha joined
the movement and involved herself in various activities entrusted to her.
She was arrested in 1930 and imprisoned for one and a half years.
Chandraprabha Saikiani delivered her first political lecture at Nabin
Chandra Bordoloi Hall in 1930. However after completing nine months in
jail she got ' released order according to the ‘Aarvvin pact’. The last
phase of the India’s freedom movement was the famous 1942 movement. She
took part in that movement and got imprisonment for three months.
While remaining outside, Chandraprobha collected
contributions from the public and helped the families of the freedom
leaders who remained in jail. Taking permission from the jail authority
she provided the prisoners necessary items like soaps, mosquito nets,
bottles of hair oil etc.
On the eighth day of Gandhiji’s assassination in 1948,
the door of Haigriv Madhav temple at Hajo was opened for all without any
discrimination of caste, creed and religion. This remarkable event was
possible only due to the efforts made by the Asom Pradeshik Mahila Samiti
under the leadership of Chandraprabha Saikiani. This was one of the
noteworthy works of Chandraprabha.
During those days there was large scale migration from
East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). Chandraprabha predicted that one day the
identity of Assamese people will be in danger. She also played active role
in language movement and proved once again her patriotism.
Chandraprabha was a versatile writer. Whenever she
found time in her busy schedule she concentrated on writing something - it
could be a poem, an article or a short story. Her novel ‘Pitri- Bhitha'
was written before independence. This novel was highly appreciated by the
readers. Dandi Nath Kalita’s novel ‘Sadnana' depicted the injustice of the
society. Had she been concentrated only on literature, Assamese literature
would have been enriched with her noteworthy literary contributions. Her
pen also had great strength like Anurupa Devi and Ashapurna Devi of West
Bengal. As she was actively associated with social and political
activities, she had very little time for literary works.
Apart from ‘Pitri-Bhitha’ she wrote three other books
for class room teaching.
In 1969, she published Mahatma Gandhi’s prayer
messages. She translated them into Assamese. They were divided into three
parts. In the preface she wrote that she was thankful to God that she
could offer the translation works to the readers on the 2""of October
which happened to be the Birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.
It is known that several books, written by
Chandraprabha remained unpublished. Out of these unpublished books ‘Eri
aha Dinbor’ and ‘Aparajita’ need special mention. She was the editor of
the monthly magazine ‘Abhijatri’. However the publication of that magazine
was closed after some time. Till her death, she regularly wrote articles
in Assamese newspapers - like Dainik Asom, Asam Bani, Natun Asomya, Asom
Batori, Nilachal etc. With sincere efforts she prepared a book entitled
‘Asom Pradeshik Mahila Samitir Etibritta’ (History of Asom PradeshikMahila
Samiti). She discussed in that book the history of the Samiti in detail.
In recognition to her social and political activities,
she as conferred the Padmashree award by the Govt. of India. But it was a
matter of regret that she could not attend the award giving ceremony,
because a few days before, on March 16, 1972, this dynamic lady breathed
Chandraprabha Saikiani was leading a life of sacrifice
and struggle. She not only eradicated the ‘Parda Pratha’ but also fought
against child marriage, prostitution and raised her voice in favour of
higher education for women. She opened an orphanage through the Asom
Pradeshik Mahila Samiti and this orphanage has still been providing
shelter and job opportunities to the destitute. Chandraprabha tried her
best to give the women their proper status.
The lady, shined with her inner light, is no more with
us; but her tremendous mental strength; quality of fearlessness,
patriotism and selfless services for society will remain forever as
sources of inspiration.