Yamin Hazarika: Tracing the Heirlooms of a Feminist Foremother of Assam

DR SABREEN AHMED

Feminist, feminism, femininity and female are the ubiquitous f words that are defined in varied ways by canonical western feminist thinkers like Elaine Showalter, Toril Moi, and so on. For long these terms on a common Indian platform either political or social have been discussed as an agenda coming from the margins of the domestic threshold, a sidelined supplementary issue with occasional rare compliments for women who dare to venture non-treaded trajectories in gender inversed roles. Strangely enough where the bandwagon of firebrand feminism is raising constant eyebrows concerning the issues of provocation, regression and social imbalance, a celebration for a woman of substance as a feminist foremother opens up doors for inclusive growth of gender equality in the slogan of progress. Substantial women leaders are now gradually coming to a 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.

But 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 ‘burkah’ 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, Assam to Late Sirajul Hussain Hazarika and Shameem Ara Hazarika was a 1977 batch DANIPS (NCT of 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 DCP (Deputy Commissioner of Police), Delhi 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 Northeast India 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’.

Gender is a social construct while sex is a biological determinant deriving from Beavouir’s potent doctrine “one is not born but made a woman”. There are various degrees of social conditioning in formulating ones idea about the gendered self either male or female.  Many people including a section of educated elite still make the drastic conclusion that feminism is hatred about men in practicality rather than an outright rejection of patriarchy. Most of the time the reductive and insensitive comments about feminism undermines the various forms of feminism starting from the path-breaking western canon with a deep inclination towards Eurocentrisim to Black American Feminism with the core focus on race as a means of subjugation along with patriarchy to neighbouring South Asian Feminisms where religion plays a dominant role and finally our own Indian Feminism growing mainly from the 1970s with a strong indigenous base having the logo of the feminist goddesses Kali for its first feminist press.

Feminist scholars like De Lauretis and Caws are striving to get beyond debating good versus bad images of women. Our culture is so full of imagery that depicts women as merely a “spectacle object to be looked at, vision of beauty” that one must ask whether any positive visual representation of women is possible at all. Though the 1970s inaugurated a new willingness to discuss the previously neglected topic of sexist images of women, much more feminist critique of received images, and feminist remaking and recreation of alternative images will be necessary before the culture reflects the experience of both genders. The significant troupes of self-exploration of the Indian women’s movement of the 70s are the mother symbol and the daughter symbol along with agency in the public sphere which are some of the components that made Yamin Hazarika very much a part of the feminist creed of her time that makes her an iconic foremother for today’s generation of Muslim girls or for that matter any woman in India. She stood against the conventional Indian ideology of a “wife-mother-power” image as an economically independent woman, a single mother with two kids, a super cop in the capital city of New Delhi balancing the protocols of life personally and professionally. As a single mother separated very early on, she had ensured both her children Huma and Vikram knew their father Rajiv Sagar Sharma well, an IPS officer himself.  As her Delhi based daughter Huma who is a writer and works in fashion says: “We had a very exciting life filled with culture and though she never indulged us, she always ensured we had everything we needed. She taught us that it wasn’t material things that counted, but rather experiences”.

Had she not succumbed to death at an unfavourable age of 43 due to cancer, more would have been known about her public contribution towards the Northeast and the Indian society at large.  It was in Bosnia, where she was posted as part of the UN peacekeeping force, that she was found to be suffering from leukaemia. She was treated at Mumbai’s Tata Memorial Institute and at AIIMS, Delhi where she passed away. It can be mentioned here as a far-fetched connection that Delhi Police has started an all women SWAT team from the Northeast from 15 august 2018 a trajectory to which Yamin Hazarika belonged way back in the early 1980’s as mark of increasing involvement of women in defence and paramilitary forces. It is a welcome move towards enrolling and attracting more young women towards the defence sector. At a juncture when crime against women is rising in Assam at a cancerous growth rate the inclusion of 13 girls from Assam in a team of 36 all women commandos is a necessary step which is commendable.

The poignant fact remains that even in today’s digitized and postmodern space women are still prawns under a regressive patriarchal mechanism in the Indian society, where a progress towards advancement and exertion of individual rights is amounted to transgression and sexual provocation. Though there are increasing discussions on legislative reforms to curb crime against women like Dowry Prohibition Act 2006, Domestic Violence Act 2009, Sex Determination Act 1994, Vishaka Act Against Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace 2012 and so on, much stress has not been laid on making a change in the thought process of the educated elite for a smooth implementation of these laws.  There is a greater need for analysing the work of Indian Feminist thinkers like Arundhati Roy, Nivedita Menon, Kumkum Sangari, Urvashi Butalia, Brinda Bose, Kamla Bhasin, Mary. E. John, Radha Kumar and so on. Coming to our own state Assam the contributions of the legendary feminist icons like Chandra Prabha Saikiani, Nalini Bala Devi, Nirmal Prabha Bordoloi, Indira Goswami and others is worth talking about more often.

There is a need to understand the current trend of activist feminist thought from the Northeast followed by Shillong-based Patricia Mukhim, Assam-based Teresa Rehman, Guwahati-based Indrani Raimedhi, Dhubri-based Parvin Sultana, Nagaland-based Monalisa Changkija, Manipur-based Binalakshmi Nepram, Shillong-based Angela Rangad and others to young readers who don’t wish to delve deep beyond their straight jacketed notions about feminism.  Still it is the women in society who have to always carry the blame for cultural degeneration in terms of choosing unconventional dressing and lifestyle and of course greater social mobility unimagined by our predecessors . There is a dearth of Feminist activism and gender sensitization in Assam beyond the women’s movement. Of course couple of years back the initiative taken by IPS Sanjukta Parashar of forming the Virangana Force was a great move towards self-defence among women. In this light commemorating Yamin Hazarika through the initiation of The Woman of Substance Award from year 2015 onwards is indeed a bold step awarding role models like writer Indrani Raimedhi, Tayabun Nisha, veteran athlete, Moloya Goswami a veteran actress and wildlife conservationist Purnima Devi Barman is indeed a impetus towards bringing woman icons to the centre of discourse beyond the margin of the private sphere. Sahitya Akademi winning writer Mamang Dai, a batch mate of Yamin at Pine Mount School, Shillong had once written in The Thumb Print magazine:

“They (a group of journalists from Northeast) had met her when media had poured into Delhi following the assassination of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1984. It is only now, looking back, that I can begin to imagine what pressures Yamin might have faced then as a young Assistant Commissioner of Police in charge of three high profile police stations during that dark period of the anti-Sikh riots that rocked the national capital… Today if merit and achievement is being acclaimed I think Yamin stands out as a first amongst iconic stars, just as she was in the way I remember her in school for her brilliance, beauty and charisma.”

In the light of the above statement made by Mamang Dai, a prolific literary voice from the Northeast India it would not be an overestimation to trace the lineage of Yamin Hazarika’s credentials as one among the feminist foremothers from Assamese society who surpassed the norms of good and bad in foregrounding her personal and professional existence. Though the very notion of mothering is contested in feminism in terms of maternal reproduction and economic production I would like adhere to the stand taken by one of the pioneering feminist writers of modern literature Virgina Woolf who says that we should think through our mothers to write. Yamin Hazarika, though a life cut short by destiny, definitely stand tall as a feminist foremother in her duty and dignity towards her community and the nation. 

The writer Dr Sabreen Ahmed is an Assistant Professor, Nowgong College, Assam.