Monday, January 30, 2017


(Guwahati) “I work in the social justice sector. I started my career in a women’s rights organisation and have continued to work there for the last 17 years. As of now I am responsible for different kinds of tasks in the organization including management-related work. My focus area is on gender-based discrimination and violence against women, especially, issues like domestic violence, witch hunting, and sexual harassment at the workplace. 

In the 1970s and early 1980s, everyone including women in our family, were volunteering for the Assam movement led by the student leaders. I was also taken for these “raasta roko” and “rail roko” protests to assert our rights. Also, I saw this culture of volunteering. In my family, my aunt, grandmother and my mother volunteered for women’s societies and gave vocational trainings on sewing and knitting or making of pickles and jams. I knew I wanted to work on women related issues beyond these vocational trainings.

When I was a student, I had to visit a lot of villages in Assam as part of my course. I would walk into people’s homes and talk to the women. I would ask them questions like: Do you like to work? What are the barriers that doesn’t allow you to work? Why don’t you enjoy your work? A lot of women would respond that given an opportunity, they would like to work outside their household and some others would state that they were allowed to work but they were not allowed to enjoy income from their work. At that point of time, my understanding of women’s rights was not so organized, and I would just simply phrase it as women were not so empowered.

During the course of my study, I met a group of women’s rights activist led by Ben Mahi (Monisha Behl). They would organize talks and seminars and this was a platform which allowed me to raise certain issues which impacted the women in the villages. Gradually, I got insights into a lot of issues of regarding gender, law and feminism. 

When I started working 17 years ago, the conflict in Assam was at its peak and we were working in the villages. The para-military forces would come and question us and throw away our files. Once I was taking a group of women to visit a village. A bandh had been called on that day but we did not get the information in the village and so we went out. The para-military forces, which were patrolling the highways, asked all the woman to get out from the vehicle, and get in their vehicles. Some of the tactics of these para-military forces were to threaten women of a particular community to subdue the entire community. We were stranded, interrogated, and were not allowed to move on. Those were stressful times but we stayed in the village and continued our work.

During one of the worst conflict in Kokrajhar, I went there without telling my family. I still remember that one of the sisters from a Convent, who was helping us in our work, informed me that the situation was very tense, and it would be better if she went on her own to help the affected tribal community. But I was firm that if the situation was bad, then it was equally bad for everyone and we finally went together to distribute relief material to the tribal community. It was a challenge to reach out to people and then to come back to do your reporting and advocacy accordingly. These were a few instances of the challenges that I faced earlier on in my work. You have to believe in yourself and trust the people you work with.

Recently, we did a study on domestic violence in rural Assam. The idea was to document cases of domestic violence to do away with the myth that women in rural Assam are free from domestic abuses. We documented the worst forms of physical and sexual abuse. Our objective was to bring the focus of the government to this report and implement certain recommendations for women’s safety within the household. We mobilize women and provide them with legal information, for example, what are the new laws that have been implemented and what can they do in a situation of distress and abuse? A half-an-hour talk empowers 100 women with latest information and it equips them with new skills.


When people argue that “women misuse law”, I ask them what makes them think that. Let us assume that women misuse the law. Who doesn’t misuse the law? Man? Which law is not being misused: AFSPA? I can go on and on. There are other typical misconceptions like  women are women’s enemies.”


“There are some funny moments too. For instance, once while I was traveling to Kohima, I slept off and missed my stop and reached Manipur. People in the border area of Manipur were all happy to see two girls. Another time, I went for a fashion show and a journalist, who covers stories and events for my organisation, saw me in my outrageously colourful outfit and asked me in shock “You are here!”. Somehow, he could’t believe that I was attending a fashion show. I often go to fashion shows and concerts and I take my child for plays. After 5 p.m. my priority is my daughter.

For a working women, it is a challenge to balance home and work. But first, one just needs to enjoy work and second learn to prioritize. Identify what is the priority now and learn to say “no”, whether at the workplace or in personal life. Today I have a supportive family. My husband and daughter take charge of family chores when I am traveling. I discover new things in life every second. I am still growing.”

Sunday, January 22, 2017


(Shillong) “I have been working here for several years. Tourists from all over the world come here.”

Sunday, January 15, 2017

(Guwahati) “I am the Executive Director of a non-profit organisation. A friend and I started this organisation in 1995 in Guwahati. Now we have six offices, two offices each in Assam, Meghalaya and Nagaland. Our organisation works on a few key themes.

One is gender-based discrimination and violence against women. We are astounded at the extent of domestic violence taking place in North-East. There is patriarchal functioning even in the matrilineal system. Men have decided that they rule the roost. All the idioms and phrases or any norm that is followed in the society is highly patriarchal in character. I talked to a lot of rural women and saw good leadership qualities in these women. So, my colleagues and I taught them how to research on issues related to domestic violence and the same women wrote a wonderful book called “Unheard” which compiled and noted all cultural references, idioms, phrases that are used in Assamese language, which look at women very negatively, because whenever domestic violence takes place, men usually try to justify the abuse by quoting these very phrases.

We are also working for the safety of women from witch-hunting and rights of women who are internally displaced. Further, immediately after the Sexual Harassment at Workplace law was passed in India, we got letters from various organisations inviting us to become a part of their Internal Complaints Committee. We had never been invited like this before and every time we go to these places, we distribute a copy of a short guide on the new law. I hope people become more conscious. I still think our work is like a drop in the ocean because every time we take a step forward we take seven steps backward.

One of the important ways to find a solution to mitigate violence is definitely through training, screening of films, writing about the issues and making more women at the grassroots level part of the movement. They are the ones, who, if influenced, can bring a stop to violence against women. 

The second theme is Governance and Accountability. We are working on the problem of women not being part of the public bodies like the Panchayat. We try to bring women into the political process. We are also enabling women to study the budget and also teach them to analyze resources being allocated at the Block and Village Level. 

In the arena of natural resources management and livelihood issues, we are digitally archiving women’s work in agricultural sector. We are compiling information related to the local seeds, promotion of millets and documenting the indigenous system of farming, which is slowly dying. We also want to talk about the good things of the North East, for example, its natural resources and how we can preserve them.

Another tough task we took up was the need to address the disparity in wages in Nagaland. We have more women farmers in Nagaland than anywhere in the world. It is a highly agrarian society and economy. Women are up at 4:30 am, and do all the labour, but their wages are much less than men. In 1998, we talked to the Village Council Head to demand equal wages for women. But the local governing bodies would explain to us that God has created men to be stronger than women and men work harder than women. But through our actions and continuous intervention, people in the rural areas understood that the worth of women here. Finally, in 2014, in front of the entire village, the Village Council Head announced the wages of men and women will be equal. I would say that it was our team efforts in Nagaland that actually got these people to change their mindset. I am very hopeful that women will be better off.

We also work with women weavers to help them earn cash. But we don’t let women weave during agricultural season so that they can work in their fields too without fear of losing their jobs. When women earn, I find husbands are helping more with household chores. I think that not only just the issues of violence should be addressed, we should also address the issue of economic sustenance, ecological balance, bio-diversity, digitally archiving photographs and documents of the good things that are going on in North-East India. 

Women at the grassroots level have a huge potential. Through collective strength, women at the grassroots level can be sensitized about improving their status, and also demand from the government to be perhaps more transparent.” 


“As a young girl, I didn’t believe there was domestic violence or any other kind of violence against women. This was may be because I had a wonderful childhood and belonged to a very protective family, I was exposed to the concept of women’s rights when I joined Delhi University. When I started working in a women’s organisation, I understood what violence was, and once I came back to Assam to work in the villages, I started realizing there is violence against women everywhere. I started my work with an NGO where I learnt how to write proposals and ask for funds.

I started working at a young age and the person that I married knew what I was like. That’s all I can say. He was very supportive and has always been. I have two children and they always saw me working or traveling for work. I used to always feel guilty because of that. My husband had told me that anytime our children cried for their mother, he would let me know. I used to be really distraught with the feeling that I was being a negligent mother the children were all right. I was an indulgent mother. Of course, they are out of the nest now.

My organisation has been a life commitment for me and the good news is that it has now come up with the next generation of leaders.” 


Sunday, January 8, 2017


(Patna) “I own a boutique. While, I have been working for over 20 years, I have not had formal training in fashion designing. Nobody in the same business was keen to help out. I taught myself hands-on. Still I didn’t face too many problems when I started. My husband was also very supportive. I get a lot of satisfaction out of my work and I enjoy it.”