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AMAL PRABHA DAS (1911-1994)

Amal Prabha Das was a reformer and Gandhian who along with her mother, Hemaprabha Das, set up a Sabarmati-style ashram in the Sarania Hills near Guwahati.

Amal Prabha was the child of Hema Prabha and Hare Krishna Das. In 1934, Gandhi visited Assam and stayed at her parents’ house. Amal Prabha got to see his work at close quarters and this inspired her to walk the path of service. In 1927 she was denied admission to Cotton College as she was a girl; ironically this same college was later to offer her a job but she declined. She travelled to Calcutta and studied applied chemistry, becoming the first Assamese woman to get a postgraduate degree. She also studied clinical pathology there.

Having completed her studies, in 1939 along with her mother she visited the Maganbari Centre of Self Development at Wardha to learn about village uplift. The family then set up an ashram on Gandhian lines in Sarania and they began to train local people in handicrafts and small-scale forest-based industries. When Kasturba Gandhi (q.v.) died in 1944, her grieving husband set up the Kasturba Gandhi Memorial Trust and appointed Amal Prabha to supervise its work in the Northeast. The Sarania Hills ashram now became the Kasturba Ashram and Gandhiji stayed there in 1946 and formally inaugurated the Gram Sevika Vidyalaya. Gandhi is said to have commented about Amal Prabha, ‘Yeh ladki chatur hain, kam kar sakti hain,’ (this girl is clever, she can work). The Kasturba Ashram helped set up 21 gram sevika kendras or centre of village uplift in different parts of the region including some in Arunachal Pradesh which are still operational. In 1950 when a devastating earthquake ravaged Assam, hundreds of members of Kasturba Ashram and the gram seva kendras volunteered for relief work. The Kasturba Kalyan Kendra was established at Lakhimpur for people rendered homeless by the earthquake. Amal Prabha also set up the Guwahati Yubak Sevadal with school and college students to fight untouchability. The members of the Ashram also worked in Vinoba Bhave’s bhudaan movement in Dhakuakhana and Dhemaji. The draft of the first Gramdaan Act was prepared by the Kasturba Trust and enacted by the government of Assam. At Guwahati, Mahendra Mohan Lahiri donated land for the Assam Go Seva Samiti. She received the Padma Vibhushan and the Jamnalal Bajaj Award.
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