Smti Durgabai Desmukh, first Chairman of the Central Social Welfare Board and Dr. Chintamon Desmukh with some distinguished social workers of Assam while visiting the Assam Sishu Kalyan Sadan.



The story begins when the country was resurgent with nation building activities with the promulgation of the constitution enshrining the concept of a welfare state. That was the time when a hungry, impoverished child considered himself fortunate if he could manage his daily square meal; not to think of meeting his other needs.

In such a state of the country, the Central Social Welfare Board (CSWB) came in to being in the year 1953 headed by Smti Durgabai Deshmukh and in the early days; the board was the only instrument by which government aid was channelised to the voluntary organizations throughout the country. The following words of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the then Prime Minister of the country is relevant in this perspective : “ This attempt that we are making to encourage social welfare activities is, in a sense, rather unique. It is neither wholly governmental nor wholly voluntary; but is a certain combination of the two, the government, though the CSWB giving financial assistance and technical guidance to voluntary welfare originations who are best suited to undertake the programmes.”

The decision to form a society to “look after the well being of destitute and/or orphan children” and “to start orphanages at suitable places in Assam to train the inmates of the orphanages in pre-basic and basic methods and generally to promote welfare activities amongst the destitute and orphans” was taken on 5th September, 1956 in a meeting of some of the socially committed ladies of Guwahati at the initiative and invitation of the noble soul and great Gandhian Smti Amal Prava Das which was attended by Smti Rajabala Das, the then Principal of Handique Grils’ College, Smti Malati Baruah (now Padmashree), Smti Bhubaneswari Devi Goswami, Smti P. Rasool, Smti Indu Prava Barooah, Smti Tilottama Roy Choudhury, Smti Hema Bharali (now Padmashree), Smti Samiran Das, Smti Dipali Das, Smti Iqbal Kaur, Smti Annapurna Barua, Smti Aruna Baruah and Smti Usha Agarwalla.

The meeting was held in the premises of the then Deaf and Dumb School located near the Assam Museum, now occupied by the Director of Archaeology, Govt. of Assam. The meeting was presided over by Smti Rajabala Das and in the meeting she was elected the president while Smti Amal Prava Das, Smti Malati Baruah, Smti Dipali Das and Smti Samiran Das were elected Vice President, Secretary, treasurer and Assistant Secretary respectively. Including these office bearers the first Executive Committee of 15 members was elected in which Dr. Tilottama Ray Choudhury, Smti Indu Prava Barooah, Smti Bhabaneswari Devi Goswami, Smti P. Rasool, Smti Hemaprava Kakati, Smti Hema Bharali, Smti Iqbal Kaur, Smti Aruna Barua, Smti Usha Agarwalla and Smti Annapurna Barua were the members. At this meeting Smti Girija Barua and Smti Usha Das were also co-opted to the executive committee. Initially it was proposed to set up the institution for the welfare of destitute women and children named “Assam Nari Aru Sishu Kalyan Sadan”.

A few days ahead of the meeting, an elderly public leader Shri Kamakhaya Ram Barua offered to donate sixteen bighas of patta land of Sundarbori, Jalukbari through Smti Amal Prava Das for the purpose. The offer was accepted and it was decided to set up the Sadan there. At about the same time, the CSWB in collaboration with the Government of Assam, decided to establish a home for destitute and rescued women to be called “State Rescued Women’s Home” and at the request of Smti Neera Dogra, the then Chairman of the Assam State Social Welfare Advisory Board, eight bighas of the aforesaid land were given away to the purpose. After the establishment of the home for women, a scheme for construction of a home for the destitute and orphaned children at the other half of the donated land was sent to the CSWB, New Delhi in the month of February, 1957 requesting for a grant of Rs. 40,000 /-. Due to these developments the Executive Committee in its meeting of 20th April, 1957 decided to rename the institution as “Assam Sishu Kalyan Sadan” and the same was registered under the Societies Registration Act, XXI of 1860 vide No. 32 of 1957-58 on 30th November, 1957 at Shillong under the signature of Mr. E.H. Pankyntein, Registrar of Societies, Assam.

Out of these sixteen bighas of land donated fo the purpose by the great philanthropist late Shri Kamakhya Ram Barooah, only one and half bighas were plain raised land and the rest was low lying, full of heaps and wild bushes which was located at a distance from the public roadside. Except for a few months of the dry season, the site was muddy and water logging was an usual phenomenon when the banana tree boats (Kol gochor bhur) had to be maintained to get to the site. At the commencement of the spade-work for the Sadan, Smti Bhubaneswari Devi Goswami, who was the eldest member of the executive committee donated Rupees one handred. The monthly subscription of Rupees two was collected from each member. Out of this fund, a chowkidar was engaged for the initial six months at a salary of Rs. 40/- to guard the site and for his residence, a small thatched hut was erected. Shri Prabir Ram Barooah, son of Kamakhya Ram Barooah coustructed a small kutcha path through the wild bushes and plants of the uneven land to facilitate building at the raised site. In the meantime, the plan and estimates submitted to the CSWB, New Delhi was sanctioned with an alloction of Rs. 40,000/- in the month of April, 1957 and the grant was received for construction of a house. Thereafter with the laying of the foundation stone of the Sadan on 17th March, 1958 by Smti Indira Gandhi, the then member of the CSWB, New Delhi and President of the Indian National Congress; and later Prime Minister of India; the construction of a house at the available level and raised plot of land was started. It was decided to construct a hostel to accomodate fifteen children and a school house by pooling up the grant of CSWB and public donations to be received from the generous public. Initially it was decided that orphans between ages 2 to 12 years, both boys and girls would be admitted and besides teaching in the basic system, arrangements would be made for their mental and physical development.

It was a trying time for the office bearers and members to raise fund for the nascent institution for carrying out its noble venture. The matter will be best realized through the following words of late Smti Malati Barua, Secretary, whose husband was late Shri Bhabesh Ch. Barua, the then Advocate General of Assam.

“From 1958, work of constructing a house at the level site was started. At every step at this stage, I received help and advice from the President, Vice President and other members of the executive committee. A senior member of the committee, Mrs. P. Rasool took me around to collect subscriptions from Machkhowa. We visited every house at Machkhowa. Mrs. Rasool collected small amounts ranging from four annas to two to five rupees – never more than that. We started at noon and worked for the whole day till the evening. We worked very hard to raise funds. The advice that I received from Sjta Bhubaneswari Devi Goswami and the help that I received from Mrs. P. Rasool are still green in my memory. Whenever I think of them, my head bows down in respect and reverence. Smti Samiran Das was always by my side. While I went round along with Sjta Hema Kakati, Hema Bharali and Dipali Das to collect subscriptions, I realized what a joy it was to work collectively and got inspiration to work with double vigour. By collecting subscription, I got the chance to came in contact with the members of the public and this gave me inspiration to work. Everyone paid gladly and willingly. For the first two or three years I had to work very hard- for the salary of the chowkidar had to be paid out of the fund collected from public”. [“Give as Light”: a publication of Sadan : 1st June, 1986]

In the next year, on the 16th April, 1959, the building was formally inaugurated by occupying the same. In the inauguration ceremony Sjta Chandra Prava Saikani, the then President of Assam Mahila Samity and Sjta. Sobhana Ranade, the well known social worker of Digboi was present amongst the distinguished gathering where Sjta. Saikiani spoke a few words when the valedictory speech was given by Shri Kamakhya Ram Borooah.

In November, 1959 the first President of the Central Social Welfare Board, Smt. Durgabai Desmukh along with her husband, bureaucrat turned social worker and Padma Vibhusan and Magasaysay awardee C.D. Desmukh, paid a visit to the Sadan.

The first Matron, Smti Bharati Saikia and the first Assistant Matron Smti. Gunamaya Devi were appointed at a monthly salary of Rs . 75/- and Rs. 60/- respectively; while a chowkidar was employed to assist them at a salary of Rs. 50/-. As the accomodation and other arrangements were ready, the first child named Indumati Pathak, a seven year destitute girl was received at the Sadan on 4th May, 1959. Along with her also came an elderly girl named Santa whose marriage was later arranged by the great Gandhian Shri Liladhar Barua. Durring the first year (1959) altogether 14 nos children were admitted and between April, 1959 to the end of 1961, twenty seven children were admitted, out of whom 8 were male and 19 were female. A routine was prepared to conduct the affairs of the Sadan from 5 in the morning to 9 in the night in conformity with the Gandhian traditions in vogue in the Saraniya Ashram including “Sarba Dharma” prayers offered in the morning and evening by all the boarders along with the matrons. Later on, a prayer hall was donated by Smti Malati Barua in memory of her husband, Shri Bhabesh Chandra Baruah who died in 1986.

Besides prayer, the daily routine included safai work, playing, drills, music, spinning, vegetable gardening and the Seceretary Smti Malati Barua took every pain to make the institution a viable and economic one which could garner support from the society.

“On 29.04.60 Sjt. Nabin Chandra Sarma, the well known and ever youthful lover of children was engaged at a small salary to teach singing and to the children. The Children soon learnt his special songs and drills due to his sincere efforts, In this method of teaching, there was a speciality of his own and he could soon win over the hearts of the children. He also contacted the authorities of the All India Radio (now Akashvani), Guwahati and arranged a special programme for children. "For me it was a memorable occasion”, wrote Smti Barua, briefing about the history of the Sadan in the book “Give as Light/Amak Pohar Lage’ published both in English and Assamese separately on the occasion of twenty fourth year of its existence. (Assamese verson : November, 1979, English version : June, 1986).

Besides these, the children were taught singing by the well known singer Shri Dilip Kumar Sarma and painting by the equally well known artist Shri Neelpaban Baruah.

Though the girls were kept in the Sadan till they were married off or rehabilitated economically, boys above 13 years of age were sent to the Government Childrens’ Home of Nagaon run by the Sate Social Welfare Department.

From its inception, the children were assigned to take part in running the Sadan as a household and they were given specific duty in turns to assist the matrons in cooking food, making snacks for the two meals and morning and afternoon tea. They had to take part in growing vegetables and flowering plants. The vegetables grown in the Sadan were used for its own consumption.

Earlier, the Sadan used to get supply of milk powder from CORAGS, the National Christian Relief Society from 1962 through its contact person Dr. Mandhenk of Christian Mission Hospital, Chatribari until 1971. After that, the same was procured from the local unit of the Red Cross Society. In a much later period, a dairy farm was added to the Sadan with two Jersey cows received from the Assam Live Stock and Poultry Development Corporation and another through Shri Sankar Barua, IPS.

In 1984, Shri Durga Prasad Singh of Guwahati donated a sum of Rs .15,000/- out of which a play house (Omalaghar) was constructed in memory of Sanju, the departed grand son of Shri Singh. During the same year, a guest house was constructed out of assistance from the Social Welfare Department of Govt. of Assam.

Two dedicated teachers, one Shri Himangshu Nath Sarma and the other, Shri Tarun Chandra Kalita was engaged on part time basis at a monthly salary of Rs . 30/- in the Lower Primary School run in the Sadan campus for which a grant was received from the State Education Department from 1961-62 to 1967-68. Classes started at 3 in the afternoon and the children passing out from the school were admitted to the nearby Gauhati University Model High School. In addition to the school studies the children were taught spinning, weaving, knitting, embroidery, sewing, bamboo and cane works as per their aptitude and capacity. They were also taught to grow jute and to make ropes and table mats out of the jute fibres. The clothes woven by the children were utilized for their own use and also for other purposes. The yarn spun were dyed by the local Khadi Board and were used to make childrens’ school uniforms. Products of the Sadan such as Mekhala, Chaddar, Gamocha, bed sheets, bed covers, table cloth, curtain cloth, Jharan, table-mats and napkins of various designs and shirtings were of great demand and were very popular. In a sense, the Sadan was self-supporting to a great extent in those days. With the change of time the production of the weaving and such other items had to be restricted due to availability of such articles in lesser price in the market. However, it is still contributing towards fund generation for sustenance of the Sadan. In 1976, after Smti Padma Rava, Smti Bharati Baishya and Smti Giribala Debi were appointed as instructors for weaving and knitting respectively. The sericulture and weaving Department of Govt. of Assam used to give a grant for purchase of materials up to the year 1970.

The Sadan recived an ad-hoc grant of Rs. 25,000/- during the year 1963-64 from the Assam Plantation Labourer’s Welfare Fund for accomodating orphans from the tea garden labourer community which was utilized in construction of a house. Two infant girls from Rajmai Tea Estate of Upper Assam named Sunie and Gudin were admitted to the Sadan for the first time and they stayed here for about ten years after which their relatives took them to their garden. These two girls were well trained in weaving in handloom.

In the year 1963, Smti Samiran Das went to Paunar Ashram to meet Acharyya Vinoba Bhave, the great Gandhian and the doyen of Bhudan Andolan. On that occasion, Baba Binovaji himself placed a small pauch containing one hundred and seventy five Naya Paise in the hands of Smti Samiran Das and told her that the money was collected by a little girl named Sudha in the “Sarvodaya Patra” who died premature. The money was earlier placed in Baba’s hand after her death. Baba asked Smti. Samiran Das to see that the money was spent for a good cause. Consequently a library was added to the Sadan, named “Sudha Memorial Puthi Bharal”. Books were purchased for the library concerning to children while some books were initially donated by Shri Ram Goswami, the then State Librarian. Hearing the news, Pujya Vinobaji sent his blessings in written form with comments that this act will enhance the emotional integrity of the country as well. There after, many books have been received from the benevolent well wishers of the Sadan.

“The narrative will remain incomplete if I do not refer to the tireless sense of service displayed by Smti Bulu Handique and Smti Sreemati Devi. Because of selfless service and single minded devotion of these two matrons, all the works of the Sadan are running smoothly. Along with them, I have also to refer to Bharati Baishya and Giribala Devi” – observed Smti Malati Barua who remained as Secretary of the Sadan from its inception to 1985 when Smti Mrinalini Barooah took over. In this connection it is pertinent to state that on 1st August, 1969 Smti Dipti Gogoi, trained in Sarania Ashram was appointed Matron in place of Smti Bharati Saikia, who was the first Matron. Smti Sreemati Devi was appointed from 1st January, 1970 in place of Smti Gunamaya Devi, the Assistant Matron who left the Sadan to live with her only daughter. Later on Smti Bulu Handique was appointed from May, 1972 as Head Matron in place of Smti Dipti Gogoi who left the Sadan in March, 1971. Smti Handique was a devoted social worker trained as Gram Sevika in the Sarania Ashram and for 11 years she served the Sadan with sincerity and selfless devotion with the idea of bringing about all round development of the children when she died of hypertensive stroke in 1983.

The annual general meeting (AGM) of the Sadan was not held up till 23rd January, 1961 as the members of the Society were scattered all over the State and it was thought that the money that could have been spent on a general meeting could better be utilized in meeting the fooding, clothing and pay of the teachers. During this period Late Smti Rajabala Das took upon a substantial amount of work of the Sadan and specially kept up the correspondences with the Central Bodies. As the Secretary Smti Malati Barua had to stay at Shillong with her husband Shri Bhabesh Chandra Barua, the then Advocate Genral of Assam, on occasions, Smti Samiron Das took the responsibility of managing the Sadan often. It is on record that during her time, the Sadan work advanced to a great extent. During these periods Smti Kananklata Bhuyan, the then Superintendent of the State Rescued Women’s Home bordering the Sadan also looked after the affairs of the Sadan for a few months as Smti Samiron Das was grossly absorbed in her Gauhati University engagements. The Secretary Smti Malati Barua took the advantage of approaching the different Government Departments for funds during her stay at Shillong, the then capital of Assam.

In the AGM held on 23rd January, 1961, Shri Gopal Chandra Sarma Barooah, the then Additional Director of Public Instruction (ADPI) Govt. of Assam, presided over and the Secretary read out the report of activities during 1959 to 1961 along with the accounts of income and expenditure. The rules and regulations were also placed before the meeting and the same were adopted unanimously. Smti Samiran Das explained about the objectives in detail. An exhibition of various articles produced in the Sadan was opened by Shri Kanak Chandra Barooah, who highly praised the patrons and organizers of the Sadan. Dr. Powal Chandra Duara, Sjta Chandra Prava Saikiani and Dr. Rohini Kanta Barooah spoke a few words encouraging the organizers for the noble venture. The Chief Minister, Sjt Bimala Prasad Chaliha sent a message wishing all round success of the Sadan. In the AGM the same members and office bearers were elected unanimously for the next session also.

The pains taken by the management of the Sadan during its formative period is aptly expressed in the following words of Smti Malati Barua, the then Secretary :

“As the land of the Sadan was close to marshy and water logged fields analogous to the Deepar Beel, during rainy season, the compound of the Sadan also flooded and water sometimes even enters the bedrooms and thus created panic. It saddens me to think sometimes that even drinking water and food for children had to be carried by Bhur. Added to this, when occasionally a snake gets in, it creates pandemonium. I feel a sense of fear even now when I think of those days. I especially remember the day 22nd August, 1962. On that day water run in a flood and drinking water and food for the inmates had to be carried by boat. For cooking, improvised arrangements had to be made. A.C.I. sheet was placed over a fairly high area and thereafter a makeshift Chula was made by placing bricks on it. The two matrons Smti Bharati Saikia and Smti Ganabala Devi worked with such patience and devotion to tide over the situation, that my head bows down in admiration when I think of them.” With a view to mitigate the frequent flooding of the Sadan compound, it was decided to dig a pond so that the soil thus dugout could be used to raise the level of compound and the pond could be utilized in rearing fish as well. The task was taken up on 10th November, 1977 with the commencement of digging.

Expenditure of the Sadan was increasing day by day and it was not possible to meet the expenses out of the membership subscriptions and public donation. One had to run from the minister- in – charge to the low level officials of the Social Welfare Department for the meagre annual grant. In the year 1967 the Sadan received only Rs. 1,5000/- as grants in aid from the Government when the Sadan faced a financial crisis with the ever rising price of commodities coupled with the expenses of the ever growing children. For want of fund it was not possible to under take the planned extension of its activities. In such a situation the executive committee had to take a decision to request the Government to take over the management of the Sadan consequent upon which on 6th April, 1967, the President of the Sadan along with four members of the executive committee met the then Chief Minister of Assam, Shri Bimala Prasad Chaliha at the Guwahati Circuit House. But the benevolent Chaliha expressed the view that if the children were to receive proper care and attention, the Sadan should continue to run on a non- governmental basis and he laid great emphasis on its retaining the non-governmental character. He took the matter so sympathetically that he agreed to give a recurring grant. As such the Sadan received a grant of Rs. 20,0000/- in the year 1967 –68 and till the time of Shri Chaliha, the Sadan continued to receive the yearly grant of the same amount.

In the year 1972-73 the annual grant from the Government was reduced to Rs. 15,000/. The Chief Minister was moved on the matter. But Shri Mahendra Mohan Chaudhury, the Chief Minister of that time could not help in that matter. Later on during the tenure of Shri Sarat Chandra Singha, the grant was further reduced to Rs. 10,000/-. But luckily during those days, some financial assistance for construction and maintenance was received from the CSWB.

From the year 1973 Children’s Day has been celebrated in the Sadan along with the AGM. Shri Suresh Chandra Rajkhowa, the then Vice-Chancellor of the Gauhati University Presided over and the then Minister of Social Welfare, Govt. of Assam, Smti Swarnalata Mahanta acted as the Chief Guest when Smti Kamal Kumari Barua, Chairman of the State Social Welfare Advisory Board was the appointed speaker. In the AGM held on 24th February 1973 Smti Hema Bharali (now Padmashree) proposed that all the outgoing office bearers be re-elected and her proposal was unanimously accepted. However, Smti Samiran Das expressed her inability to continue and as such as per Smti Indu Prava Barooah’s proposal Smti Minoti Rajkhowa was elected Assistant Secretary. Later on in the AGM held on 5th May, 1985 Smti Indira Miri was elected President with Smti Hema Kakati as the Treasurer.

On 10th January, 1977 an exhibition of various products made in the Sadan was organized in the Nabin Chandra Bardoloi Hall on the bank of Dighali Pukhuri, Panbazar, which was inaugurated by Smti Rajabala Das, President. An amount of Rs. 2,600/- was collected in the exhibition as sales proceed. The exhibition had an impact in boosting the morale of the Sadan management.

Initially Dr. Upendra Nath Barua, a physician of Gauhati University looked after the children as a visitor on a minimal honorarium. On recommendation the ailing children were sent to the Guwahati Medical College Hospital. Dr. Kanak Chandra Barooah also looked after the treatment of the children at times. The Principal of Guwahati Medical College, Dr. Jogesh Mahanta, Dr. Narendra Nath Dutta, Secretary of Lions Club, Dr. Dipali Dutta, Dr. Manish Chandra Bhuyan, Dr. Jyoti Dutta all had helped the children of the Sadan is medical care from time to time. Dr. Nandita Baruah, a Paediatrician and daughter of Smti Malati Baruah helped the children as Medical Adviser and the Sadan was greatly benifitted during her association. Dr. Jibon Baruah of the Noonmati Refinery helped the Sadan by supplying free medicines during those days.

The period from 1956 to 1986 may be described as the formative and resurgent phase of the sadan. “ This phase was followed by a few years when old age and death greatly reduced the number of people who had been shouldering the responsibility of the Sadan from the early years. Somehow no other people came forward for the task. As a result, "the Sadan reached a very deplorable condition during the years 1986 to 1993” observed Dr. Binoy Kumar Tamuli, who later shouldered the responsibility of giving a new lease of life (1994 – 2006) to the Sadan, after being elected the President in a public meeting held on 22nd May, 1994 assisted by helping hands of some active members and sympathisers.

“There was a time when I along with the children of this ashram (as the Sadan is popularly known) would go in to the city and ask people to donate something to save our lives”, recalled a senior matron, Srimati Devi, who was associated with the Sadan almost from its beginning. “During those difficult years, when there was no such patron of the ashram, we could manage to eat only once a day.”

The later period is another phase of selfless and dedicated service of some devoted souls under the stewardship of Dr. Binoy Kumar Tamuli which saved the Sadan from the state of despair and bring it to a more vibrant institution earning the faith of the society. “ To outside observers, it appeared the Sadan had been miraculously transformed from an ailing patient to a healthy institution. Sicerity and competence is a strong combination and this can be observed when you see the Shishu Sadan run by competent social workers” observed Smti Nilakshi Barua, who was the Secretary during the period 1998 to 2001.

During this period Dr. Manmohan Singh as Hon'ble M.P. of Rajya Sabha has sanctioned several projects to the Sadan and himself paid a visit on 26th December, 1996.

Later on much needed drinking water supply project has been implemented during the year 2008-09 out of his Area Development Scheme of Dr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister.

Further, a double-storey building named Learning Centre has been constructed out of the fund received from Hon'ble M.P. Shri Indramoni Bora (Rs. 4 Lakh) and Shri S. Kondapan (Rs. 3 lakh) with Rs. 4.4 Lakh contribution from State Bank of India under Corporate Social Responsibility Scheme (CSR).

In the year 2010-11 the Powergrid Corporation of India Ltd. has constructed a 3 room Assam Type accomodation with toilet block etc. out of their Corporate Responsibility Scheme (CSR) for the year 2010-11 at an approximate cost of Rs. 7 lakhs for which more facilities are being offered to the children.

A new maintenance free Bio-energy plant with vermicomposting was added to the Sadan during 2010-11 which was funded by Shri Bhubaneswar Kalita, Hon'ble M.P. (R.S.) out of his M.P. Local Area Development Scheme (Rs. 1.4 Lakhs) and is implemented in collaboration with Energy Deptt. of IIT, Guwahati.

During these period the Sadan thrived due to the guidance, association and generous help from a section of the committed well wishers and kind hearted people and up to the year 2010 more than 300 child have been provided a secure home in the Sadan.