SHIELA BORA, a pioneer of Women’s Studies research in Northeast India analyses how police officer Yamin Hazarika was an iconic face in the newly emerging women’s movement in India
The second Yamin Hazarika Memorial Woman of Substance award, 2016 was a solemn and meaningful occasion. This year the award was presented to veteran athlete Tayabun Nisha. Last year, noted journalist and author Indrani Raimedhi was honoured with the award instituted in the name of this trailblazing police officer. The memorial function is organized by Women’s Hub, a collective of professional women from all walks of life.
Yamin was a familiar name to most of us who spent our childhood in Shillong. For those of us who knew her from her childhood, she was a mild-mannered, girl with a great deal of humour. It was indeed surprising for me to learn that this soft spoken woman not only cleared her DANIPS (NCT of Delhi, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli Police Service) in 1977, but once selected she proved to be a woman with a tough exterior notwithstanding a certain softness to her. Her impeccable track record in the force, won for her a position of pride as a recipient of the Nirman and Mahila Shiromani awards. It was not long before that she rose to the position of the Deputy Commissioner of Police (crime against women), a position in which she personified every aspect of feminine power. She was a consummate woman, a woman in every way—strong and unpredictable woman—a woman of steel.
At the time when Yamin Hazarika cleared her DANIPS in 1977-78, the Women’s Rights Movement was undergoing a period of resurgence. It is true that as a result of the reform movements of the 19th and 20th centuries and the enactment of several legislations, policies and statutes in the post-Independence era, women had started breaking barriers. But behind the façade of ‘India Shining,’ and in spite of all legislations, traditional patriarchal norms continued to shape women’s destiny. The Report submitted by the Committee on the Status of Women in India in 1974, highlighting the marginalisation of women in every sphere of life resulted in a fresh outburst of women’s protest providing new dimensions to the women’s rights discourse. Since then, the women’s movement emerged as one of the most articulate and widespread movements in India and Yamin Hazarika was in the thick and thin of it.
Till this point of time the women’s discourse went through phases like “welfare”, “equity” and “rights” keeping in tune with the shifts in the national policy towards women. But in the 1970s for the first time, the discourse on woman’s issue in India began to focus on “empowerment.” This was the decade when public debates were initiated on the issue of women’s status, domestic violence, dowry, rape, custodial violence, trafficking and the invisible labour of women in the household. Yamin Hazarika stood as an epitome of women at this particular time. Her appointments to crucial positions in the police department, together with her determination to fight all crimes against women greatly helped the cause of women’s empowerment. Her experience made her believe that women on the streets are safer than they are at home as 50% of female children are abused by male members at home.
Unfortunately, Yamin Hazarika met an early death in 1999 at the young age of 43. She did not live long enough to see her dream come true. Crime against women not only exists, but continues to grow at an increasing pace. A recent study conducted jointly by the Omeo Kumar Das Institute of Social Change and Development, Guwahati, and the Institute of Human Development, New Delhi, highlights the inequality which women continue to face as a consequence of the increasing rate of crime against women. According to the report, “Women in Assam are vulnerable to marital violence. Violence related to unmet demands for dowry is one of the common reasons for marital violence. Though dowry is traditionally not practiced in Assam, incidence of dowry-related deaths have increased in recent times.” Had Late Yamin Hazarika had lived longer, her fight against such crimes would have certainly contributed a great deal in tackling violence of this nature.
Yamin Hazarika’s life is an inspiration for all of us. She belongs to that group of feminists who are not dependent on getting their due from the male-dominated society. Her contribution as an agent of change in transforming society with her dedication and hard labour, set an example for the younger generation. She was no doubt a pioneer in launching a relentless fight against all sorts of violence against women. The Yamin Hazarika Memorial Woman of Substance award is well-deserved and I hope this Award will continue to honour more woman of substance in future.”
Dr Shiela Bora is a visiting lecturer with Gauhati University’s departments of history and women’s studies. She was professor and head with the department of history, Dibrugarh University, till her retirement. She did her post doc in Women’s History from Yale University as a Fulbright scholar and thereafter taught Women’s History in the Divinity School of Harvard University as a Fulbright scholar on a teacher exchange programme in 1996.