assam's women

When women get a story of their own

- Netherlands institute to document and preserve Assam’s mahila samiti movement


Unsung sisters

Guwahati, March 10: After his-tory, it’s time for her-story.

The unsung sisters of Virginia Woolf and Simone de Beauvoir will find their rightful place in history when an institute from the Netherlands documents the contribution of women’s groups in Assam.

The International Institute of Social History, Amsterdam, is funding a project titled “Memory, Movement and the Mahila Samiti in Assam” at Tezpur University to preserve the social memory of the mahila samiti movement in the state.

Mahila samitis played a significant role during the nationalist movement in colonial Assam and has ever since offered help during natural calamities and refugee settlements.

Three mahila samitis — Assam Pradeshik Mahila Samiti, Tezpur District Mahila Samiti and Dibrugarh District Mahila Samiti — have been selected for the project.

There are more than a thousand primary mahila samitis in Assam today. But there are reasons why these three were selected: Dibrugarh is the oldest (1915), Tezpur (1918) the most active and has a lot of documents from the past while the Assam Pradeshik Mahila Samiti (1926) is the apex body.

“The project will digitally scan and preserve old documents, photographs, letters and other papers available at the three mahila samiti offices in Guwahati, Dibrugarh and Tezpur,” the project co-ordinator, Hemjyoti Medhi, who is an assistant professor at the department of English and foreign language in Tezpur University, said.

The South-South Exchange Programme for Research on the History of Development for Preserving Social Memory: History and Social Movements is intended to support small-scale projects for the preservation and dissemination of historical knowledge and/or alternative historical sources, such as visual and audio materials. The purpose of the project is to document the present institutional structure, outreach activities, consultancy, training programmes, meetings and conferences of the samitis.

He said the “project is particularly crucial in developing societies like ours as preservation of archival material and precious old documents has always been a challenge here”.

Once completed, the project will evolve a database on the mahila samitis in Assam. Talks are on with the Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta, to connect this database to national and international databases on social movements.

Meenakshi Bhuyan of Tezpur District Mahila Samiti said the digital preservation of old documents is one of the crucial means to evolve a historical understanding of the mahila samiti in Assam.

The project will also involve personal interviews of office-bearers, members (past and present), intellectuals and activists who have had a sustained engagement with the mahila samiti movement.

“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman,” Woolf once wrote.

With one stroke, Assam will drag its women activists out of anonymity and put them where they belong.

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