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Widows of Uttarakhand disaster pick up the threads of life

By Shweta Sharma, Rudraprayag (Uttarakhand), Dec 22 : For Dhanita Devi, 22, life took a tragic turn six months ago when the flash floods that hit the pilgrim town of Kedarnath in Uttarakhand washed away her hopes and dreams. Her husband of six years died, leaving her alone to take care of the three children.


The story is the same of Meera Tiwari, 26, who also lost her husband, a priest at the Kedarnath shrine.

But the two are not the only ones in the Deoli-Banigram village of Rudraprayag district to have lost their spouses. As many as 34 women share the same fate besides living in abject poverty, looking after their children and in some cases aged in-laws after the June 16-17 flash floods, which left scores dead and thousands homeless.

Infamously tagged "village of widows", these women now have some ray of hope with the just launched vocational training centre by Sulabh International. The NGO supports the widows and the unemployed youth with monthly financial support of Rs.2,000 and job-oriented training.

Sulabh International Social Service Organisation adopted the village after it came to light that a large number of widows reside there and that 57 men went missing from there .

The NGO works to promote human rights, environmental sanitation, non-conventional sources of energy, waste management and social reforms through education.

Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh Sanitation Movement, a social service organisation, said the residents were dependent entirely on Kedarnath for earning their livelihood till the natural disaster left them in disarray.

Pathak said the village was adopted to make the women self-reliant and ensure no one goes to bed without food.

"We do not want the village to be known as "Village of widows" but want it to become a "Model village". We will take care of the widows and impart vocational training to them besides ensuring proper education to the kids," Pathak said while launching a training programme.

The vocational centre will impart training to them in making candles, earthen lamps and wicks, sewing, providing basic education and making them computer literate. Area trainers will be taken on board to teach these women.

The training centre has 12 computers and 25 sewing equipment, to be made available to those willing to learn.

"Though this was only for the widows, it is now open to everyone in the village. As we proceed, we will add carpet weaving and beauty parlour training," Pathak told IANS.

"We will have a marketing channel, so these women can be self-reliant. By the end of March, training will be in full swing. We hope to get a proper place for setting all the equipment," he said.

Dhanita Devi who doesn't know how her husband died, said he was a porter and also owned a shop in Kedarnath.

"My husband's shop was in the Rambada area. He used to stay in Kedarnath for six months during the pilgrimage season. When I spoke to him on the morning of June 17, everything was fine. But it was all over by evening," she says, as her eyes well up.

Devi, whose children are aged 4 years, 2 years and two months says she was confined to her home with her kids and mother-in-law. "I had no skills," she told this IANS correspondent.

"Now, there is some hope. Though I will not be able to do much as I have an infant, I will definitely learn sewing. I will work from home as much as I can, and this will help me in many ways," she added.

Agrees Tewari, who also plans to learn sewing. "If nothing else, it will help me remain busy," she says.

Kiran Purohit, another widow, told IANS: "I am just 23 years old and have a one-and-a-half-year-old son. I want to work and educate my child."

She added, "I am a graduate, but never got to work as I was married early. I have basic computer knowledge and want to gain more knowledge. There are a few schools here where I can teach after the training is over," she added.

(Shweta Sharma can be contacted at shweta.s@ians.in)

--IANS (Posted on 22-12-2013)

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