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
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.