December Edition, NET Bureau, Making a Difference, Sayantani Deb
She started working for the society at a very young age and used to participate in various meetings. However during that time there were not many people listening to her, so she decided to dedicate her life in improving the society.
From helping hundreds of marginalised women to be self-reliant to the setting up schools for the poor children in interior places, 39-year-old Biju Borbaruah, who live with rural women to understand and help them with their hardships, has many things to her credit.
For over two decades, Biju has been working closely with poor rural women to enable them to stand on their own feet. In a conversation with Northeast Today, Biju speaks about what inspired her to take up community service and her experience in working at insurgency-hit remote areas in Baksa district of Assam along Indo-Bhutan border.
“I was involved in community service for the first time in 1996. I was inspired by my elder sister to enter this sector. I used to participate in political meetings and express my views on different issues since very young age. But unfortunately during that time there were not many people listening to what I had to say. It was then I decided that I would work to improve my society and community,” shares Biju.
Biju joined social development organization thinking that she could contribute something towards the improvement of the society. However, after working for few months there, she realized that a large fraud was being perpetrated in the name of helping poor people by the organization, so she decided to quit it immediately.
“I was so shaken after failing in my very first step that I thought to stayed back in exposing the truth and fighting against corruption and injustice. At that time one of my well-wishers suggested me that if I am interested in doing something for the society then it will be perfect for me to work with Rural Volunteers Centre (RVC), an NGO based in Dhemaji. Accordingly, I took permission from my mother and joined RVC,” she says. According to Biju, joining RVC was the turning point of her life. “After joining RVC, I felt this was the place where I could work.”
After working for a year in RVC, Biju joined Tamalpur Anchalik Gramdhan Sangh (TAGS) in Baksa district. TAGS works in Kumarikata area bordering Bhutan, the remote region which was famous for two reasons—malaria and insurgency.
“When I was working in that region, I saw people have lots of problems as during that time Bodo movement was at its peak. Due to this no government officials wanted to work there. Witnessing such pathetic situation of the people, I decided to work and dedicate my life to them.”
Speaking about her experience of working at insurgency-infested Bodoland Territorial Autonomous District (BTAD), she says, “In 1998, I started working in Angarkata area in Baksa. I went around the villages to tell them about self-help groups as the concept was new to them. Locals were suspicious of my motives. After working for two months, I was summoned to a meeting in the Vagajuli-Khamjuri. People asked me why I am roaming around the villages, they even warned me. However, despite the fear, a large number of women and youths had turned up in the meeting where I explained the objective of my works. Gradually I gained their trusts and the fear of the people was reduced.”
Within a very short span of time, people started coming forward and supported her works. Accordingly women self-help groups were formed to address their financial needs. Presently she runs around 450 self help groups (SHGs) in various parts of Baksa, each group comprising of 10-15 women members. Most of the women belong to financially backward family.
With an eye to carry forward her social work, in 2001 Biju registered a trust –ASHA Darshan. The trust addresses the pathetic plight of vulnerable population of interior areas in Baksa district. ASHA Darshan imparts training on traditional handloom and other activities such as candle making, detergent making etc. to uneducated and financially backward women and girls. The organization has two training centres— in Tamulpur and Bogajuli (Indo-Bhutan border). Besides opening a huge number of SHGs for the upliftment of the condition of rural women in insurgency-prone Baksa, Biju has also established a number of schools in various parts of the district.“When I visited Baksa I saw that the school dropout rate is very high in the district. Further there were schools but no teachers. So for improving education of the children, I with the help of ASHA for education, an organization based in USA, started establishing schools in various parts of the state.”
“So far we have set up nine schools in Angarkata, Sunmoni, Abhayapur, Satyanarayanpur, Devinagar, Simliguri, Nagapur, Shantipur I and Shantipur II village in Baksa,” she says, adding, “Out of nine, seven are Assamese medium schools and two are Bodo medium schools.”
The schools organize educational tours for the students and involve them in different social awareness programmes. Also art & craft and tailoring classes are organized for girls during summer break. Biju has also established a school in Ukhrul district of Manipur.
“Unlike Bodoland area, Ukhrul district also used to face frequent ambush, which severely affected the lives of the children as there was not a single school. After coming to know about the situation, I immediately visited and spoke to the locals and concerned authorities. Accordingly with their help a school was set up in 2002,” she says.
Biju also runs ‘Mahila Shanti Sena’ in Dhemaji and Baksa district in a bid to reduce the rate of domestic violence. The organization is currently working in the three blocks of the district–Tamulpur, Nagrijuli and Ghograpar.