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My Half of the Sky- Profiling indomitable women of North East

Guwahati: Traditional, yet modern, resilient and capable of enduring all odds — are the women from North East as portrayed by Assam’spic2 prolific writer Indrani Raimedhi in her latest book.

The book ‘My Half of the Sky’, profiles twelve women of diverse background from the region who have confronted great odds and endured heart-breaking ordeals to stand by what they believe in.

A HIV-positive patient who loses her husband and child to AIDS and turns a crusader, the daughter of an impoverished farmer surmounting all odds to become an Olympic medal winning boxer, world’s only female elephant catcher, a rustic devoting her life to save women from being branded as witches and being killed, women who have overcome their physical disabilities to fight for rights of others like them are among the twelve women whose lives have been featured in the book.

“The stories of these women are stories of struggle, hope, despair and triumph, and though they all are from the North East, it must be acknowledged that they go beyond the confines of a geographical place and are bound to inspire anyone from any part of the world,” she says.

Their narratives dispel gender stereotypes, reveal facets of this beautiful, troubled part of the country and “my book also stands for the premise that all issues are womens issues”, says Raimedhi, a journalist with a leading English daily of Assam and an author with nine books to her credit.

Eminent journalist B G Verghese, writing the foreword of the book, points out that the notion that unlike their sisters in most other parts of the country, women in the North East necessarily enjoy a greater degree of freedom and a privileged position in society is exaggerated.

Raimedhi has rendered a singular service by revealing another facet of this very diverse region through a series of fascinating stories of some of its remarkable women who have fought privation, discrimination and adversities of every kind to become icons and blaze new trails, says Verghese.

Jahnabi Goswami took the unprecedented step of being the first HIV positive woman in the North East to come out in the open after losing her husband and baby daughter to AIDS, going on to set up the Assam Network of Positive People to help people with HIV, AIDS and fight for their rights.

Parvati Barua is the celebrated Elephant Queen, the only woman elephant trainer in the world, who was born into an affluent and privileged zamindar family who instead chose to answer the call of the wild, taming and training elephants.

Raimedhi also profiles Mary Kom, the daughter of an impoverished farmer in a Manipur village, who with grit and tenacity travels the long road to international fame as an Olympic boxer even as the dice seems loaded against her.

As a teenager, Sahitya Akademi winning author Rita Chowdhury spent years as a fugitive student revolutionary hiding from the law who went on to chronicle the Assam movement against foreign nationals, capturing in gripping prose the drama of those stirring years.

Birubala Rabha is the feisty crusader who has braved death threats and ostracisation to speak out against witchcraft in Assam’s remote countryside and this unlettered woman has battled great odds to save thirty-five people, deemed witches by superstitions villagers, from certain death.

Concerned by rising instances of human trafficking, Meghalaya’s Hasina Kharbhih has created the Meghalaya Model, a collective initiative involving government, NGOs, judiciary, police etc which work in close collaboration to tackle the menace.

Padmashree awardee Bertha G Dkhar’s world may have turned

dark as she became blind but braving great odds, she created Braille in the Khasi language and ushered in a quiet revolution in the area of education for the visually challenged.

Afflicted by polio when she was a toddler, Assam’s Urmee Mazumdar dedicated her life to work among the disabled through her NGO Swabalambi- making them aware of their rights, arranging for their treatment and training them for a livelihood.

Dr Manisha Behal is credited with single-handedly professionalizing social work in the North East and her NGO, North East Network, is a leading organisation working in the area of women’s rights.

Award winning film director Manju Borah, undeterred by lack of finance and limited infrastructure make films that bring hope to the crippled Assamese film industry.

Raimedhi also profiles journalists Monalisa Changkija and Teresa Rehman, both upholding the value of free, fair and fearless journalism.

“I spent twenty-five tough, memorable years trying to be both a writer and journalist before the idea of writing this book on women who are survivors and pathfinders, doers and dreamers, inspiring hope,” says Raimedhi.

These twelve women have overcome personal tragedy have broken the fetters of tradition, discrimination and coped bravely with the harrowing experience of violence and uncertainty and “their stories reveal what it is to live in North East–an often forgotten corner of India,” she adds.

PTI
First Published: Monday, December 1, 2014

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