Mina Agarwala was a prominent women’s rights activist of Assam. She was one of the prominent leaders of the Tezpur Mahila Samiti. She was affectionately called Mambu. She had reconstituted the Tezpur Mahila Samiti following the footsteps of Agni-kanya (the fiery woman) Chandraprabha Saikiani. She worked immensely with rural women. Being Gandhian in her ideologies, she contributed immensely in women’s welfare irrespective of their caste, creed and communities.
Mina Agarwala was born on December 15, 1924 to Nagendra Nath Baruah and Hemlata Baruah. Getting attached to Kalaguru (pioneer of art and culture) Bishnu Prasad Rabha, at an very young age, she learnt dance and music. Later, she got married to Kamala Prasad Agarwala (younger brother of famous Rupkonwas Jyoti Prasad Agarwala) at the young age of 15 and became the mother of two daughters and a son.
She pursued formal education till secondary level. Later, she continued her education with a home tutor who was appointed by her husband to teach her English. But unfortunately the teacher was unable to teach her much as she had very less time for lessons due to her household chores and social work. It was not that she devoted herself only to social work and the Samiti, but she also spent equal amounts of time back with her family at Poki. She also had a passion for reading, which she pursued with full concentration. Her simplicity and her down-to-earth attitude was well reflected through her lifestyle.
Her Contributions To The Society
Mina Agarwala has contributed immensely to the society as a social worker. She rendered selfless services to people in distress due to natural calamities and mishaps like flood, earthquakes, communal violence, riots, foreign aggression, among others. Her work for Tezpur Mahila Samiti on women’s empowerment and women’s rights are immense. She held the prestigious position of President at the Tezpur Mahila Samiti till 2004. She along with the people in the Samiti tried educating and inculcating the spirit of entrepreneurship amongst the rural women.
Legal aid was also provided to women who were subordinated or repressed on matters of dowry, divorce and property. She tried to provide distressed women with supportive facilities like counselling, rehabilitation and so on. At a time when women’s mobility was restricted and community work done by women was looked down upon, Mina Agarwala through her work, created the foundation for future women welfare activities. She used the Samiti as a platform for to raise women’s voices against illiteracy, low-income and low self-esteem.
Mina Agarwala also worked for Muslim women. In 2002, she arranged a public hearing on behalf of the Tezpur Mahila Samiti and Muslim Women’s Forum on the status of Muslim women in Assam. The forum was named as ‘Giving the Voiceless A Voice‘. In the forum, she spoke about the Samiti’s contribution to the improvement of status of Muslim women through their works on Triple Talaq, dowry, non payment of Mehr and maintenance.
One of her biggest feats was her work for Tibetan refugees in 1959. With her excellent organisational skills, she mobilised women from the Samiti itself, took a truck to Missamari and welcomed the Tibetan refugees. She sheltered the distressed refugees who were disturbed by the atrocities of the Chinese. In 1962, she along with her team organised a fund raising campaign for the National Defence Fund after the Chinese aggression.
Women were trained to become Home Guards during this time in order to protect themselves as well as their home territory from foreign infiltration. Besides, all these the Samiti under Mina Agarwala’s leadership had also organised fetes, fairs, study circles, weaving activities and other annual events for encouraging women’s empowerment and self-employment and livelihoods.
In addition to women’s welfare, she also contributed to the development of children. She opened a vernacular primary school, Sisu Bharati within the campus of Tezpur Mahila Samiti in the year 1954.
Gandhian in her ideology, she deeply believed in voluntarism. She whole-heartedly used to spend all the money she gathered, as funds for the welfare of the Samiti or for the welfare of distraught women. Her earlier work for the Samiti was completely self-sacrificial, she did not accept any remuneration for the work that she conducted.
Later, however, in the ’80s she had to start accepting a remuneration when the Samiti started working on larger projects. Her understanding of social justice and secularism was as clear as the makers of our Constitution. This was clearly visible from the way she worked for the welfare of women as a whole, without confining herself to certain geography, caste or community.
For her untiring work on women’s empowerment, Mina Agarwala received prestigious laurels like the Amal Prabha Das Memorial Award, Janaki Devi Bajaj Award and Nari Shakti Award (1998). After years of social work and women’s welfare, Mina Agarwala passed away at the age of 90, on 24 July 2014. The loss that her death brought to the estate was unfathomable. Her legacy is still continued by the Tezpur Mahila Samiti through their works on women’s empowerment and rights. Though Mina Agarwala has contributed immensely to regional women’s struggles, yet her work unfortunately, have not been able to capture limelight in the larger framework of the Indian women’s movement of the ’80s.
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