“I am the only one left in the family now,” says Vasundhara Devi, 32, whose husband and two sons are among those who have gone missing in the Kedarnath floods in June and are now ‘presumed dead’. Poonam Tewari, whose husband Suresh owned a restaurant in Kedarnath, says, “I only have a three-year-old daughter for a family now. I need money to educate her.”
Sarita Bagwadi’s father and two brothers are missing since the disaster struck the hills. “I was studying in Agastyamuni (in Rudraprayag district). My college has also been damaged completely,” Sarita says. Though she intended to study further, she has now decided to work in order to support her family.
Fifty-four men from the Deoli-Bhanigram gram sabha to in Rudraprayag district to which these women belong, had gone to the Kedar Valley to work as priests, hoteliers, mule owners, and shopkeepers. Six months in Kedarnath, when religious tourism is at its peak, paid these men enough to sustain themselves and their families for a year. But these men never returned.
Sulabh International Social Service Organisation, under the ‘Sulabh Help Programme’, adopted this gram sabha on Thursday to help 32 women like Vasundhara, Poonam and Sarita, who lost their husbands in the floods, start their lives afresh.
The organisation, which supports widows and abandoned women in Varanasi, will now extend financial support to this gram sabha, which consists of six hamlets and has 155 people.
Each of these widows, as well as men and other unemployed youth, will be given Rs. 2,000 every month. Each of the 48 children in the village will be given Rs. 1,000 every month, for five years, the organisation said.
A non-governmental organisation working for the abolition of manual scavenging, Sulabh International also started working for the welfare of over 700 widows living in Vrindavan on the directions of the Supreme Court.
Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, described the moment as the “beginning of a beginning”. Although, initially, the organisation proposed to provide financial help to villagers, they later decided to extend help in education too, so that villagers can be employed, he said. “Sulabh International will assure that no one stays hungry, unemployed, or illiterate in the Deoli-Bhanigram Gram Sabha,” Mr. Pathak said.