By SABREEN AHMED
Yamin Hazarika Award for Woman of Substance opens up doors for inclusive growth of gender equality in the slogan of progress by celebrating substantial women leaders at centre-stage of public performance in their respective fields by their efforts in multifarious degrees and disciplines of professions from the diversified strata of the society.
Commemorating Yamin Hazarika, an Assamese feminist foremother, a Veerangana, through the initiation of the Woman of Substance Award from the year 2015 onwards is a progressive step awarding relentless role models. The previous years’ awardees include – Indrani Raimedhi (2015), journalist and author, athlete Tayabun Nisha (2016), Moloya Goswami (2017) a veteran actor, Environmental activist Purnima Devi Barman (2018) and Hasina Kharbhih (2019), an internationally recognized social crusader against child trafficking are icons in their own chosen field and this award is indeed a impetus towards bringing woman to the centre of public discourse beyond the closed margins of the comfortable private sphere. The recipient of this year’s Yamin Hazarika Award 2020 is Rana Safvi, a writer, translator and historian of Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb, a marker of pan Indian syncretic hindustani culture.
The sixth Yamin Hazarika Woman of Substance Award was held online with international coverage with speakers from Assam, New Delhi and the US on a zoom platform. The guest of honour for the event, Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, DGP Assam, an IPS officer from 1988 batch remembered her through his nostalgic reminiscence as a student at New Delhi. He spoke about writing an article on Yamin Hazarika which was published in the Sun Magazine, brought out by the then students in New Delhi who came from the Northeast. He remembered her as a soft looking valiant Assamese lady, one who epitomises the symbols of courage intrinsic to the heritage of Assamese Veeranganas like Mula Gabharu, Sati Sadhani, Kanaklata and many more. A video of the first all women commando force started by Assam Police was shown as an appendix to his talk as the guest of honour. His speech was followed by the giving away of the award to this year’s recipient Rana Safvi, an erudite speaker, author and historian par excellence of Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb, at her residence at New Delhi by Huma Hazarika, daughter of the deceased officer, herself an entrepreneur. An ardent believer of the syncretic Ganga Jamuni Tehzeeb of Hindustani culture, she popularizes Urdu online through her Twitter forum #Shair. As a historian and author she has published seven books so far on culture, history, and monuments of India. These are Tales from the Quran and Hadith, The Delhi Trilogy: Where Stones Speak, The Forgotten Cities of Delhi and Shahjahanabad, The Living City of Old Delhi. She also translates from Urdu to English. She has translated both the editions of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan’s seminal work on Delhi-Asar us Sanadid, Dastan e Ghadar and four accounts of 19th and 20th century Delhi from Urdu to English. Her blog ranasafvi.com is a repository of cultural, literary and historical heritage. In her speech after receiving the award Rana Safvi elaborated on the forms of mental and physical abuse faced by women in personal and professional lives and expressed her concern over a sensitive environment where a woman can handle her vulnerable mental health to cope up with living realities to fight against all forms of discrimination. Her enlightening speech was followed up by the speech by the chief guest, Suhasini Haidar, the Diplomatic Affairs Editor of The Hindu who highlighted the role played by iconic female figures in building a syncretic society on progressive lines. Haidar said, “Yamin Hazarika epitomised integration in a country as diverse as India. The fact that she was from the Northeast and that she made a name for herself at the Centre is a celebration of the diversity and the value of integration.”
The award ceremony was moderated by a well-known anchor Tinat Atifa Masood. It began with a slide show that highlighted some clichéd write ups and events focussing on the life of Yamin Hazarika and the award over the years. The welcome address for the meeting was delivered by Nellie Ahmed, educationist and entrepreneur who spoke of Late Yamin Hazarika as an absolute repository of women power. Nellie Ahmed further quoted historian Sheila Bora who situated Yamin Hazarika within the discourse of women’s empowerment as a resonating epitome and an iconic figure to be remembered for future generations. Eminent journalist and author Teresa Rehman spoke at length about the gradual journey of the award beginning with a very small group of women professionals. A trend setter herself in the field of reporting conflict from the Northeast, she dwelled upon the need of the Award for Woman of Substance to leave an imprint in the women narratives of the region in researching and celebrating icons of strong womanhood that stand out as exemplary in a male dominated world. She spoke about Yamin as a single mother of two children maintaining with brilliance the complex balance of personal and professional life in a patriarchal police set-up. Manajit Barman an IT professional who joined the event from the US talked about the goodwill ushered by the award within the state of Assam that spread out to the national capital at New Delhi resonating its voice to a global audience made possible on an online platform despite of the pandemic blues currently hitting the world .
The most poignant tribute to Late Yamin Hazarika was paid by Asad Ahmed, her uncle whose speech subtly dealt with the craft that comprised Yamin Hazarika as a true Woman of Substance. He cited the example of an event that took place in 1991 when the late officer served in the Crime Against Women Cell of the Delhi Police. In the said event Yamin Hazarika wished to register a complaint against a bureaucrat whose wife filed the petition against domestic violence but she was reprimanded by her senior officials. When she stood up for her cause with polite assertion though she was not fired or suspended but was transferred to a battalion which exposed the rampant gender inequality prevalent in the male dominated police force. He cited with deep emotional fervour her last days during a chemotherapy session at Mumbai where he remembers her image with a shaved head yet a brave championing heart which could have been another success story of cancer survivors in those days without the instant newsmakers facilitated by social media in contemporary times. For him she always remained an icon of unfettering courage of womanhood who stood for the right cause during her lifetime as a Woman of Substance and after her life inspiring many other illustrious women of credit and calibre with an Award in her name. Both the children of Late Hazarika Huma and Vikram established in Delhi as entrepreneurs remembered her as a mother who taught them the softer values of life gained from small events and mundane details like thanking caregivers with gentleness or visiting an orphanage to understand empathy for life of others and the surroundings that transcended the boundaries of faith, language and regionalism. They remembered her as a mother who gave them a life of adventures, avenues and unadulterated affection. The other speakers in the event were Reshma NC Shah educationist and entrepreneur who briefed the audience with the guest profiles and the vote of thanks was offered by Dr Shabnam Choudhury, a dental surgeon. Lastly, I would like to end by quoting a few lines about Yamin Hazarika from an earlier article where I had written:
“… three decades back in the 70s when millions of Muslim women in India remain “unmothered” in the domain of patriarchal forefathers buried under the weight of religious restriction and separatist spatial confinement of ‘zenana’ and ‘burkhah’ woman like Yamin Hazarika stand out as a beacon for tracing the heirlooms of progress in an alternate field like police services a specifically masculine territory. Being a woman of iconic credentials beyond the norms allowed by family and religion is a feat in its own and Yamin Hazarika was definitely one ahead of her time in academic pursuits. Yamin Hazarika was born in Guwahati to Late Sirajul Hussain Hazarika and Shameem Ara Hazarika was a 1977 batch DANIPS (Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Police Service) officer. She was a recipient of Nirman and Mahila Shiromani awards and was the deputy commissioner of police, known for her impeccable track record in the force, including a three-month stint in Bosnia. She died on July 24, 1999 at the age of 43. An Assamese Muslim woman from the land-locked terrain of the North-east proving her niche in the Central Police Services at New Delhi in the heydays of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi is a reason enough to be commemorated as an illustrious woman of substance to be followed by future generation of young girls as a progressive ‘foremother’.”
Dr. Sabreen Ahmed teaches English at Nowgong College, Assam.