In Conversation with Riniki Bhuyan Sarma: Entrepreneur, Philanthropist and Media Tycoon of Northeast
The number of women in high-powered leadership positions has been ever increasing. Women today are charting unknown territories unabashedly and fearlessly - be it business, education, travel, fitness, entertainment or industry. And while there are plenty of women who have made a mark in their own fields with sheer determination, G Plus got in touch with the Chairman and Managing Director of Pride East Entertainment, Riniki Bhuyan Sarma, to know about her journey to the top, the hardships she faced along the way and her matrimony with Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma.
A gritty independent woman, Riniki is so much more than just “Himanta Biswa Sarma’s wife” – she’s a lawyer by profession, an ex-tennis player who has represented Assam in the nationals and the head of the largest media house of the region with 2 news channels (News Live and North East Live), 3 entertainment channels (Rang, Ramdhenu and Indradhanu) and 1 Assamese newspaper (Niyamiya Barta). Besides, Riniki also heads 3 NGOs.
Born in Guwahati to a leading industrialist of the time, Riniki grew up within the business environs of the society. After completing her schooling from St Mary’s School, she went on to pursue her graduation and post-graduation from Cotton College, Guwahati. She then pursued LLB and is currently enrolled in the Bar Council of India.
During her graduation days in Cotton College, she met the then General Secretary of the college, Himanta Biswa Sarma. They fell in love and got married after a courtship of 10 years. The couple now has two children – their son is presently giving his board exams from Doon School, Dehradun while their daughter is studying in 8th grade at Mayo School, Ajmer. We present excerpts from a conversation with her.
Tell us about the inception of Pride East Entertainment.
A group of 5 like-minded people started News Live way back in 2008 with the aim to make the people of Assam more aware of the happenings around them.
At that time, there was no concept of broadcast journalism in Guwahati and we started off really small. We were facing difficulty finding people to work for us. So we started picking up the who’s who of print media. We had media gurus coming in to Guwahati to guide us with the production process, handling of equipments and helping us figure out how to present news in front of the camera. It was a learning experience for us. Ever since, there has been no looking back for us. We have grown from a single channel to a network of five channels.
How do you think has the regional media evolved in the past decade?
Back in those days, even if an incident used to take place in our own locality, we never used to know about it until the next morning when we read the newspaper or the national media covered it. With News Live, we came with the intention that ‘daaror batori dare jaabo’ meaning, ‘each news must reach the people.’ We wanted the people of Assam to be the first ones to know about the news around them rather than waiting for others to tell them the next day.
But now, with so many regional channels coming up and the digital media picking up pace, the scenario has changed drastically. People have become more aware.
Do you agree with the notion that the Indian media is ignorant of northeast India?
People from other parts of India as well as abroad always have misconceptions and stereotypical representations of us; they have not been exposed to our cultures and vibrant traditions.
I do feel that northeast India is not well represented in the national arena – be it in the field of sports or politics or natural calamities occurring in the region. And that’s why, with our media presence, we have always aimed to put northeast on the global platform and show the world that we represent a beautiful part of India.
Although News Live is Assam dominated, the channel is telecast pan-India and it’s also available in other countries. With News Live, we are catering to the Assamese audience residing in all parts of the globe.
We recently launched Northeast Live because while Assamese is a regional language, English and Hindi are widely spoken languages and it makes our news reach a wider audience.
Being one of the leading businesspersons and media personalities of Assam, do you face any challenges or threats?
I’m encircled by the aura of being Himanta Biswa Sarma’s wife, so challenges and threats come to me naturally. You see, we are a very lethal combination – politics and media.
Right now, I’m in a very powerful position, but it wasn’t always like this. When my children were doing their schooling in Guwahati, they faced radical discrimination. I remember my 4 year old daughter being bashed up just because she was a politician’s daughter. Both of them used to come crying to me, wanting to know what was going on. It was a very difficult phase for all of us, as a family. We started having terrible nightmares and had to fight our way out.
How is it being Himanta Biswa Sarma’s wife?
If I have to describe it in one word, I’d say I’m proud.
I know I don’t sound feminist but being his wife is an identity that I admire. I do believe in letting my work speak for myself and I feel that when people see and accept my work, I will carve a niche for myself. But until then, if they recognise me as Himanta’s wife, I don’t think that’s an identity to take offence of.
Amidst speculations of Himanta Biswa Sarma contesting MP elections, the Jalukbari constituency will be up for grabs. Are you likely to contest elections from there?
Never! Since I help Himanta in his grassroots works, a lot of people seldom ask me this question. Well, the truth is that I’d rather jump off the Saraighat Bridge than enter the line of politics.
I’m very introvert by nature. I get involved in politics to the extent where I have to help him. But till date, I’ve never meddled with his constituency. Whatever help I can give as a wife, I extend that. I’ve no involvement in politics other than that.
Tell us about your philanthropic pursuits?
I’m currently running three NGOS’s – Sneha Bandhan, Udayachal and The Golden Threads of Assam.
With Sneha Bandhan - a home away from home for young children – we aim to provide long term family based care to children who have lost their parents and also strengthen disadvantaged families and communities as a punitive measure against abandonment and social neglect of children.
Udayachal is a home filled with love, colours and warmth – it is a place for people of all ages and also a school for the special children. We also shelter the elderly, provide them with love and support, and help them feel at ease.
The Golden Threads of Assam is an initiative taken to preserve the royal silk - Muga. It is an effort to show people that ancient craft form and the glamorous fashion industry can co-exist in harmony. While Muga silk is solely available in Assam and weaved by a certain class of women, these intricate thread works are slowly being eliminated from the society due to the presence of middlemen. So, as part of our CSR activity, we provide these women with the threads and other raw materials and sell the final products to end customers at minimal rates so that the women earn a fair share and the customers are not over charged.
- In Conversation
- Riniki Bhuyan Sarma
- Himanta Biswa Sarma
- Pride East Entertainment
- Northeast Live
- News Live
- Golden Threads
- Niyamiya Barta
- Sneha Bandhan
- Riniki Bhuyan
- Assamese Media
- Women of Assam
- Women in Power
- G Plus
- Guwahati Plus