AMRIT JYOTI MAHANTA
The book highlights individuals, often ignored in studies of the violence in Assam.
Homemakers Without The Men: Assam's Widows of Violence; Wasbir Hussain, Indialog, Rs.195. ONE glorious chapter of Assam history is Mula Gabhoru fighting an invading army after the enemy killed her husband on the battlefield. Another tragic story is that of Jaymoti in the late 17th century who was tortured to death under the orders of a despotic monarch for not divulging the whereabouts of her husband who was claimant to the throne. The latter was immortalised by Jyotiprasad Agarwalla in the first Assamese feature film "Jaymoti" (1935). These two examples from history amply indicate the guts and resilience of the women in Assam. In his Homemakers Without The Men, Wasbir Hussain captures some recent examples of true grit by otherwise little known women, which speak of promise and the pain at the same time. Every conscious citizen is aware of the insurgency in Assam.
Focus on individuals
However, news-reports detailing death and destruction do not necessarily carry the horror and the pain suffered by individual victims. Society, over a period of time, unknowingly develops a stoic unconcern to reality. This is one book that shakes the readers from their conditioned indifference. In the introduction, Hussain summarises the issues behind the unrest rocking the northeastern State for last two and half decades. However, those unfamiliar with the socio-political developments of post-independence Assam will find these issues difficult to understand. Also, the introduction appears out of place in a book where the emphasis is not on the agenda of violence but violence per se. The victims (or rather the widows of the victims) are from different communities and different parts of the entire Brahmaputra valley. Their husbands trod different, at times contradictory, paths — insurgent organisations, government service, political parties ... Some were relatives of insurgents. But after their untimely demise, the widows suffered similar pain and devastation.
The distinguishing feature of this book is that it highlights individual pain and suffering, which is often not adequately discussed in the many highbrow talks on `the issues'. To his credit, the author refrains from judgmental statements while narrating the incidents. Apart from pointing out various related issues like economic hardship (except in the case of a fortunate few) and at times loneliness (ostracized by a panic-stricken society), he argues for some urgent necessities like professional counselling to the shocked family members. The redeeming feature of these tales is that the widows are coming to terms with their reality with grit and gumption. Apart from raising their families as single parents, many are making some contributions for a better tomorrow. While Alaka leads a non-profit organisation, Tribeni runs a school. And Kamrun Nissa's determination in bringing up her husband's second wife's sons is simply extraordinary. The enterprises of these bold women would definitely contribute to make the society more responsive to a bleeding reality and thus get over from it. Therefore these reports, while compelling the readers to empathise with these widows of violence, are inspiring at the same time detailing the resilience of the daughters in the land of Mula Gabharu and Jaymoti.