Purnima Devi Barman receives the Yamin Hazarika Women of Substance Award 2018

MUMENINAZ ZAMAN

Wildlife biologist and conservationist, Purnima Devi Barman, popularly known as “Hargila Baideo” who have been consistently working on the conservation of the endangered species called the greater Adjutant stork (locally known as Hargila) was conferred the fourth Yamin Hazarika Women of Substance Award 2018 at a sombre function in Guwahati recently.

The award celebrates the life of Late Yamin Hazarika, a 1977 batch DANIPS (NCT of Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Police Service) officer. The event started with the filming of a short film showcasing the life of Yamin Hazarika and the journey of four years of Yamin Hazarika Women of Substance Award. The earlier recipients of this prestigious award include Indrani Raimedhi, author, journalist, and columnist at The Assam Tribune; athlete Tayabun Nisha, and noted Assamese actress Moloya Goswami.

Kuladhar Saikia, Director General of Police, Assam was the chief guest on the occasion and Dr. Aparna Sharma, documentary filmmaker and professor at the University of California, Los Angeles was the guest of honour. Shameem Hazarika, mother of late Yamin Hazarika was also present on the occasion.

Indrani Raimedhi’s book “Crime, Justice and Women”, which is dedicated to late Yamin Hazarika was released on the occasion. “Yamin Hazarika remained in my mind while I was compiling “Crime, Justice and Women”, and today is the best opportunity while I dedicate this book to her.” said Raimedhi.

Earlier, a panel discussion was also organized on the theme, “Is social media dividing the society, instead of uniting it?” which was moderated by Reshma NC Shah, Education Consultant. The panelists include Durba Ghosh, Senior journalist, PTI, Nahid Islam, Psychiatrist, GNRC, and Arpana Sharma Circle Officer, Hajo Circle.

According to Durba Ghosh, there are certain section of people who are dividing the society through the social media for their vested interests. They utilize it to spread unrest and polarization which is affecting the society at large. Disinformation, malinformation and misinformation are the three culprits which one should refrain from while using social media. She further stated that the media houses should follow the A-B-C of Journalism, which denotes- Accuracy, Balance and Credibility while educating the people who have access to social media.

Nahid Islam opined that there are some people who passively accept whatever comes up in the social media instead of analysing or criticizing the content. Moreover, the level of maturity is also a factor which determines how the audience consume the information. Awareness of fake and real information, an active role, from the legal forces and cyber monitoring is important to curb the spread of divisive information on the social media. As a psychiatrist, Nahid informs that Internet addiction has been categorized as a mental health disorder and medical treatments are also available for the same. Keyboard warriors, Personality Disorder, Paranoid traits and Anti-social personal traits are some of the disorders which decipher the double-sided personality of an individual, in such cases, while some people have a pleasant persona but they are filled with negativity from within. People with low self-esteem, or attention seekers who are easily carried away by the likes and comments are more vulnerable to the ill-effects of social media. They usually suffer from behavioural problems and are not able to control their emotions.

Arpana Sharma, pointed out that social media is a double-edged sword and social media literacy is the need of the hour. While social media is used immensely in every walk of life, people should be aware of real and fake news and much depends upon how they consume the content. Arpana further cited the examples of the advertisements circulated by the Assam Police in curbing the ill-effects of social media.

 Teresa Rehman, journalist and author deliberated on the completion of the four years of Yamin Hazarika Women of Substance Award. Citing the example of the documentary film Sisters of ’77, which deciphers the chronicles of the 1977 National Women’s Conference in Houston, Texas with a goal to end discrimination against women and promote equal rights, Rehman said, “In the same year Yamin Hazarika rose to be a trailblazer and the first woman from Assam to join the Central Police Service, who later became the Deputy Commissioner of police (crime against women).”

Educationist Nellie Ahmed Tanweer, while introducing late Yamin Hazarika, recalled the adventurous and courageous life of the police officer, who also happens to be her close relative. Speaking on the occasion Tanweer said, “While in the 70’s the western countries were celebrating women empowerment, a silent girl in India rose to be a pioneer in her field of endeavour. Since childhood, she has been a determined girl and a voracious reader and qualified the civil services exam in the very first attempt. She was the kind of a woman for whom duty always comes first.”

Kuladhar Saikia, DGP, Assam Police highlighted on the burning issues of the society, including the use of social media and spreading rumours and said “Nowadays we are more inclined towards digital connectivity than emotional connectivity. Social media has both good and bad effects, one has to be aware about the real and fake messages.”

He also deliberated about the rising violence among the public who take law in their own hands without even thinking about the consequences. He further stated, “What happens in the society is sure to come back in our home. Instead of stopping the crime we are clapping or encouraging to attack people on the streets.” On a positive note he said, “We should not teach our children to follow the monotony, and that there are other colours to life. We should allow the thinking process to flow in their own direction.”

The awardee, Purnima Devi Barman is a wildlife biologist working with Aaranyak, an NGO working on biodiversity conservation and wildlife. She has been a crusader for the Greater Adjutant Stork, in the Kamrup district of Assam. Purnima has been working relentlessly in her endeavour in the villages of Dadara and Hingimari, to protect the endangered species from extinction. The journey was arduous for Purnima, but she was determined to achieve her goal. Initially, the odd-looking scavengers were not welcomed by the local villagers as a result of which it was becoming difficult for her to do her PhD research, it was then she realized that the issue needs much more attention.

She, along with her team from Aaranyak, set forth by engaging and educating the local people about conserving the Hargila’s by including the species in their culture, tradition and religious customs. At present she is working with around 10,000 people of Dadara and Hingimari in protecting the storks and their habitats. Moreover, she used to engage the women in protecting the birds, whom she proudly refers to as the “Hargila Army”.

An ecstatic, Purnima while receiving the award said, “I am honoured to receive the Yamin Hazarika Women of Substance Award, and dedicate it to my Hargila Army, this will definitely inspire the young brigade to work for the society.”

“Initially, when I started my journey of protecting the birds, I was mocked for my interest in conserving the species. However, I was determined that awareness needs to be created among the villagers and now I am working with the whole community in saving the Adjutant Storks. There is a huge difference between working in the forest and working with the villagers. I tried to incorporate the bird in their sacred space and cultural aspects. I used to play web of life with the women to make them aware about the extinction of the birds and whenever a Hargila lays eggs we organize baby showers, and celebrate in the local temple by offering rice pudding.” said Purnima.

In recognition of her efforts for the conservation of the Greater Adjutant Storks and its habitat, she has won many accolades, including the Conservation Leadership Award, 2009 and the prestigious Whitley Award, popularly known as the Green Oscars Award.

A documentary which was featured at the Whitley Award Ceremony was also filmed on the occasion. Purnima wrapped up her speech with the lines she had deliberated at the Whitley Awards, “Who says my bird will not win a beauty contest? My bird has won the biggest award today, the Yamin Hazarika Women of Substance Award.” Purnima was felicitated with a gamusa by Shameem Hazarika and was presented with a seleng sador, a bouquet and a memento by the chief guest, Kuladhar Saikia.

A documentary film, “Mihin Sutta, Mihin Jibon” which is about the weavers of Tezpur Mahila Samiti was filmed at the event. The 97 minute feature film is directed by the guest of honour, Aparna Sharma. The event concluded with the recitation of the national anthem.