Hema Prabha Das
 
     
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HEMAPRABHA DAS

(1886-1945)

Hemaprabha Das had her education in Calcutta at a time when a few parents thought of educating their girl child. At that time education for women in Assam was a far cry. She possessed enormous work spirit. She was the founder and Head Mistress of Dibrugarh Girls’ High School which is now promoted to Higher Secondary School.

Hemaprabha was born in 10th of April, 1886 in an aristocratic Bhuyan family. Her father was Madhabendra Bhuyan and her mother was Deviprabha Bhuyan. Both of them were liberal minded and highly enthusiastic for women’s education. Hemaprabha’s sister was Durgaprabha Bora and her two brothers were Kanak Chandra Bhuyan and Manik Chandra Bhuyan.

The mother of Hemaprabha was a woman of strong determination. When Durgaprabha and Hemaprabha completed their education in Middle school, Deviprabha thought of giving higher education to her daughters. Inspire of the inconvenience of communication, she took her daughters to Calcutta for education and admitted them in class vii at Bethune College. She resided in a rented house in Calcutta with her daughters. They were the first Assamese girls setting out to Calcutta for higher education. They made journey by ship and then from Gualond station they traveled by train to reach Calcutta.

Durgaprabha and Hemaprabha passed the Entrance examination after a few years and Deviprabha decided to keep the daughters in the hostel of Bethune College, but Durgaprabha was unwilling to stay in the hostel leaving her mother . Being helpless the mother decided to bring back both the daughters to Assam, but Hemaprabha refused to leave Calcutta and told her mother, ‘You have promised to keep me in hostel for education, so you must allow me to stay here. I shall study only in Calcutta’. She was happy seeing the determination of the youngest daughter and came back to Assam leaving her in the hostel. After passing F.A. from that college she took admission in B.A class. She was popular among her friends. The teachers also loved her. She had to come back home at the death of her father and so she could not complete her education. In spite of the repeated invitation from the college authority she could not complete her education due to some domestic problems. The dream of Hemaprabha to be a graduate thus was nipped in the bud.

Durgaprabha was married to Dr Bipin Bihari Bora during Hemaprabha’s stay in Calcutta. It is worth mentioning that Durgaprabha was the president of Asom Mahila Sanmilan of Dhuburi held in 1926.

Dr Bora, the brother- in-law of Hemaprabha, shouldered the responsibility of the family in the absence of their father. He also arranged Hemaprabha’s marriage with Dr Harikrishna Das, the assistant surgeon of civil hospital, Guwahati. She gave her consent to this marriage hearing the words of high praise of the groom from Dr Bora. The wedding was solemnized in 1906. Dr Harikrishna was also a liberal minded, outspoken, sympathetic, beneficial and free minded man. Hemaprabha was also a free minded, loving and, kind hearted woman. Tilottoma, her eldest daughter, was born in 1908. At this time Dr Das was transferred to Dibrugarh. In addition to his service to the civil hospital, he extended his service as a teacher in Berry white medical school. Her youngest daughter Amalprabha was born in Dibrugarh in 1911. She had to be busy in upbringing her daughters. For a socially conscious woman like Hemaprabha it was a matter of distinction to absorb too much in domestic chores. She began to think how enthusiasm can be generated in the mind of women towards education. An opportunity came to her. In 1913 a vacancy of Headmaster occurred in Dibrugarh Model School. Hemaprabha was selected for the post by the managing committee. She accepted the offer.

At that time co-education was not introduced in Assam. The girls did not have the opportunity to read in high school after passing class vii. So Hemaprabha planned to promote this middle school to high school. She visited every household to collect M.E pass girls to enroll in the proposed high school. Starting one class after another she materialized her plan of opening a girls’ high school. In 1923 the first batch consisting of nine girls appeared the Matriculation examination. Two Bengali girls were also in the group. All the girls passed the examination and six of them secured first division. Gradually the number of girl student went high. Even the girls from tea gardens near Dibrugarh came to the school. But inspire of their deep enthusiasm for learning the girls from distant area were unable to come due to the insufficient communication. Hemaprabha arranged a car for the girls by collecting donation from the people. She provided even accommodation for the girls in her own house. She appointed a Khasi girl as teacher accommodating in her own house as she could not have a graduate Assamese girl to teach in her school. She also opened a hostel to provide accommodation for girls of neighbouring village as they were willing to study in that school. She was very caring to the students. If any boarder suffered from any disease she asked Dr Das to give treatment.

Hemaprabha was not only an educationist, social reformer and industrious but also a good writer. She translated thirteen plays of Shakespeare into Assamese in abridged from and titled it ‘Shakespeare Galpa’ which was published in two volumes. Her husband Dr Das was the publisher of the books. Of course nothing is known about the dates of these publications. The name of the translated stories were Jen Kukurar ten tangun, Othello, Danduri Katherine, Taiman, Jarkalir galpa, Romeo Juliet, Raja Lear, Julius Ceaser, Bahbarambhe Laghukriya, Pericles, Hamlet, Macbeth, Dvadasa Rajani. By translating these stories into Assamese she gave the taste of western literature at a time when people were hardly enlightened by education. Her endeavor in this respect is exemplary for today’s women.

She also published a collection of twenty stories which was full of religious, historical and moral ideals and the name of the book was ‘Sajkatha’. The probable date of this publication was 1934/35 and Dr Das was the publisher of this book also. It was introduced as text book in class v and vi in some schools. The stories of the book taught the importance of good behavior, truthfulness and humane qualities like kindness and mercy.

Ambikagiri Raichoudhuri, the revolutionary Assamese post was in Dibrugarh when Hemaprabha was still in service. Dr Das and some patrons of literature of that area released a monthly magazine entitled Asom Bandhav. Hemaprabha contributed many articles suitable for women to this magazine. In addition to these she was the organizer of many symposiums where discussion on many important topics took place.

In 1921 Gandhi launched his movement of boy cutting the foreign clothes. In order to respond to it she learnt weaving appointing an instructor of weaving. She appointed village women in weaving clothes. Both husband and wife helped the orphans and the abandoned children of society irrespective of caste and creed.

As a mother Hemaprabha Das was ideal one. She educated her children and also made them expert in household chores. Her eldest daughter Tilottama passed MBBS from a science college of Calcutta. Tilottama started her career as medical practitioner in Guwahati and Amalprabha sincerely worked for the society and the country.

When Gandhiji’s struggle for independence gained its momentum, the Das family was highly inspired by the principles of Gandhi. They taught the women the lesson of self reliance to the village women in their own residence in Sharania. Hemaprabha also came to know the various schemes of self employment introduced by Gandhi. She even went to wardha to have a comprehensive knowledge of these schemes. She started many small industries like paper making, bee rearing in Sharania after taking training in village industry of Maganbadi. She even established a training centre at Sharania. But the whole plan was delayed when the family actively involved in the struggle for independence for which Dr. Das and Amalprabha Das were arrested and put in jail.

Hemaprabha Das was very simple in her attire. She always wore dress made of muga and endi. Her treatment to the subordinate was very nice. If she found any drawback on their part she frankly told them. Everybody loved and admired this outspoken lady. Here is an example of her outspoken quality.

Gandhi took the hospitality of Hemaprabha Das when he came to Assam for eradication of untouchables. With him a group of children came and they were given salt free food according to the instruction of Gandhi. One child of the group made a request in a loving manner to give them delicious food with salt. Hemaprabha could not deny and gave them Assamese food cooked deliciously. Gandhi questioned her about this. She confessed boldly, Bapuji, what you have heard is true. You are my guest and I give you food according to your choice. Similarly they are also my guest like you and I should value their taste. Mahatma smiled and remained silent. The memory of such a bold, outspoken, kind, independent and ideal woman should be retained by everyone with respect.

 

 
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