Resilience is their middle name: How disaster-affected women of Kedar Valley turned over a new leaf in life | dehradun | Hindustan Times
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Resilience is their middle name: How disaster-affected women of Kedar Valley turned over a new leaf in life

That resilience is mountain women’s middle name finds perfect resonance in Sarita. While the “Himalayan Tsunami” broke the spirit of many, Sarita has since emerged as an example of indomitable courage by standing on her own feet and also inspiring others around her.

dehradun Updated: Jun 15, 2017 21:04 IST
Neha Pant
Women work at Mandakini Mahila Bunkar Samiti headquarters in Rudraprayag district.
Women work at Mandakini Mahila Bunkar Samiti headquarters in Rudraprayag district.(HT Photo)

DEHRADUN: June 16, 2013 is a date etched deep in Sarita Devi’s memories. It was the day when rain came in droves. There were cloud bursts. The gushing waters of the flashfloods, induced by rain, wreaked unprecedented havoc in the Kedar valley reducing several villages to rubble and claiming more than 5,000 lives.

Among the worst affected was Sarita’s village, Bhanigram, in Rudraprayag district. And among the dead was her husband, the lone bread winner of the family.

Given a chance, Sarita would love to go back in time and rewrite the history of that date. But that is just a wishful thinking and Sarita is not one who believes in such wishful thinking.

That resilience is mountain women’s middle name finds perfect resonance in Sarita. While the “Himalayan Tsunami” broke the spirit of many, Sarita has since emerged as an example of indomitable courage by standing on her own feet and also inspiring others around her.

Sarita is one of the 300-plus women hailing from nine disaster-affected villages of the Kedar valley who started life afresh with the help of Mandakini Mahila Bunkar Samiti, a women’s group based in Rudraprayag district, by mastering the basics of weaving and spinning.

Most of these women were either left widowed, had lost breadwinners of their families, or suffered from other losses (houses, agricultural fields, livestock) in the disaster. Today, they are earning a living from the handloom products they create with love and passion.

“We’ve built our lives from the scratch. We don’t want to look back now,” says Sarita with a glimmer of hope in her eyes.

While operating a bank account may be an effortless activity for her urban counterparts, for Rekha Devi, another resident of Bhanigram village who was widowed during the 2013 disaster, it was no less than a “prized achievement” when she did so for the first time after months of confidence-building.

“The (post-disaster) journey was a tough one but today I’m happy that I’m not only economically empowered but am also running a bank account on my own,” says Rekha who now takes financial decisions for her family.

Having taken charge of their lives like warriors, these women, however, wish for at least one thing from the state government – more and more opportunities for marketing the products that sustain their lives.

“The Chardham Yatra (annual pilgrimage to four Hindu shrines) attracts lakhs of pilgrims to Uttarakhand every year…the government should help women like us set up outlets along the Yatra route,” says Ranjana Devi of Dewali village, who lost her husband during the disaster.

“There are thousands of (disaster-affected) women like us across the state who have risen above (the darkness) to find a new meaning in life through similar projects,” add Mandodari Devi and her sister-in-law Sulekha of Lamgaundi village, who both lost their husbands to June 2013 tragedy.

Harikrishan Bagwari, founder of the weavers’ committee which is supported by Uttarakhand women empowerment and child development society, says that these women are “icons” in their own right. “They have become a role model for anyone who may be finding it hard to turn over a new leaf in life. Even a cataclysmic disaster failed to break them,” he concludes.