This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Poornima Mandpe. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

“The Collector’s Wife”: A Civilian Point Of View To Political Instability In Assam

More from Poornima Mandpe

I took an interest in this book called “Collectors Wife” solely to read something about conflict, an insurgency, or civil war. I say this at the cost of sounding elitist; I wanted to know – how violence and political instability ravaged the lives of people – with a childish sense of curiosity – also to understand how they must be feeling – all while sitting comfortably on my bed in Mumbai. Indeed, there is nothing else I can do either, other than reading and staying informed about something that is happening so far away from me. Nothing else – other than helping myself in forming an opinion and being more sympathetic for people whose lives had nothing in common with mine, such that if ever a conflict closer home I would expect others to show towards me.

“The Collector’s Wife” is written by an Assamese writer Mitra Phukan (well known, as I soon discovered), and is set in Parbatpuri, a small town in a conflict-ridden region of Assam. It introduces us to the strife in Assam through the married and settled wife (Rukmini) of the district collector of Parbatpuri, a lens which is objective and yet rooted in real-time and space.

Residing in the officer’s bungalow situated literally and figuratively on a hill overlooking the small town, Rukhmini lived a sheltered life and protected from the raging insurgency in the region where kidnappings, extortion and killings are a part of the daily news. The privilege of being the collector’s wife in a small town where the state authorities yield enormous power is lost. Her childlessness, even after ten years of marriage, the monotony of her routine as an English teacher in a place where few cares for literature, the politically constrained and somewhat detached social circle that she is a part of, makes her life lonely and unexciting.

A chance encounter of a handsome young tyre agent Manoj Mahanta sets her life in motion again, and very soon, she falls for his charms and oversteps her boundaries as the “loyal wife”. The book moves quite predictably at this point, as the readers know that Rukhmini and Manoj, with their shared interests and loneliness, would surely get together. We are, however, unprepared for the events that start shaping up soon after, when the political conflict that the Rukhmini stood so aloof and unaffected from inevitably starts inching closer to her life.

For anybody who expects a closer account of the self-determination movement in Assam and the youth-led militant groups that proliferated with the issue of illegal migration, the book will not provide any great insight. What it offers instead is a civilian point of view to the violence and the political instability in the region.

The book explores the division that exists between ‘us’ with the privilege of remaining politically neutral and socially above ‘them’; Those are irrevocably drawn in the conflict (whether out of choice or necessity), until a point where the two merge in a devastating climax. More than once, the novel raises questions over the meaninglessness of the conflict and the helpless situations which drive the youth to violence and militancy, for several reasons far placed from the actual cause they claim to espouse.

The students in Rukmini’s college periodically engage in peaceful demonstrations against the state authorities neglecting their studies and even risking their future. None of the professors, Rukmini often muses, wants to have a conversation with them on the real issue. Rukmini is perhaps herself unable to comprehend the politics, but sensitive as she is, she is at least able to perceive the misguided ideals that the youth blindly follow and that the poverty, suppression and exploitation of the poor tribal communities lie at the root of the conflict.

The book is the glimpse of fear and insecurity that envelops the people during conflict zones, and harassment that is meted out from the militants on the one hand; At the same time, the state authorities claim to guard the interests of the people. Mira’s descriptions of the famous Assamese monsoon and pre-monsoon thunderstorms, the jungles, the rivers, the craggy hills that surround the town, and a graveyard located just below the mountains where the family resides adds to the feeling of fear and looming danger.

Parbatpuri’s middle class talk ceaselessly about the kidnappings and the killings, in gory and exaggerated details as a way to vent out their fears, but stop short of taking sides. The entire novel, in fact, restrains from taking a political opinion, and indeed everything seems meaningless and unjustified in the face of death and destruction that both the sides unleash.

However, while the insurgency offers a background in which the story remains rooted, it is the portrayal of its characters trying to search for love and companionship that makes it an interesting read. Just the same as her unbiased account of the conflict in the region, Mitra Phukan steers away from getting into the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ in human relationships. Were Rukhmani’s transgressions justified in the face of a loveless marriage? Or is it unfair on the husband whose indifferent and cold exterior is a result of working under extreme pressure in a hapless situation? What was the base of the affair between Rukhmani and Manoj? Physical attraction, a genuine fondness for each other, rekindling a dead romance, curiosity of exploring an uncharted terrain or finding a way out of sheer boredom? Or was it something of everything?

We are left with these questions and many more.

Into somewhat dispassionate narration of the lives of the three protagonists, it was shaped by their surroundings as well as their misgivings and faults. Mitra Phukan allows us the readers a multidimensional approach to the conflict and relationships and conflict in relationships. For someone like me who thrives on love stories in classic romantic novels, such a pragmatic take on intimate relationships was little of a reality check!

I yet recommend ‘”Collector’s Wife” wholeheartedly, for readers who like drama as well as those who prefer fiction based on facts. More so, to the readers like me who prefer fiction to understand society and politics, over academic non-fiction books on theories and statistics.  

You must be to comment.

More from Poornima Mandpe

Similar Posts

By sukanya deogam

By Simran Poptani

By Nachi

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below