Real Heroes, a CNN-IBN initiative in partnership with Hindustan Times, celebrates the extraordinary service of India's ordinary citizens every year. This year, Real Heroes awards will felicitate 13 heroic women who conquered all obstacles to make a difference to people's lives. Today we share four such stories.
Dr Laxmi Gautam
Since ancient times widows in India have been abandoned and ostracised. Vrindavan is home to thousands of abandoned widows - young and old - left to fend for themselves by those they once called family. Dr Laxmi Gautam, a professor, takes care of these widows by providing them with the basic necessities, taking care of their medical needs and giving them the much-needed emotional care. Over the years Dr Gautam has not only helped these women regain their dignity but also helped bury bodies of hundreds of such widows who no one wanted to claim.
Children of sex workers are usually left to fend for themselves and are most likely to be ensnared into substance abuse and trafficking. When Priti Patkar began working in Mumbai's red-light areas in 1986, she was told that she was foolish to invest in the welfare of the children of sex workers. But despite all odds she set up an organisation called 'Prerana' that provides a night shelter for the children, takes care of their meals, conducts weekly health checkups and enrolls them in municipal schools while taking care of their expenses. Priti today runs three centres in Mumbai's red light areas in Kamatipura, Grant Road and Vashi.
In the backward tribal areas of West Bengal's Dooar region, where a girl child is considered a burden and is barred from dreaming beyond working in tea estates and getting married at an early age, Bhabani Munda brings a ray of hope. Bhabani, who dreamt of playing football since the age of seven, took the initiative and convinced parents to let their girls play. Now in her early 20s, she leads a feisty football team of 11. Despite having one set of jersey each and two footballs, the team that has no coach boasts of state-level players who have won numerous trophies. Today, these 11 girls are creating a platform for other girls to realise bigger dreams. This is truly the Real Heroes Chak De moment.
(name changed to protect identity)
At a time when the brutal Delhi gangrape braveheart united thousands across the country and led to candle marches and protests, a young girl showed enormous courage to expose the sexual abuse she and 130 other inmates of an orphanage were subjected to everyday. This 18-year-old has seen the worst side of children shelters. Orphaned, she was sent to the home at the age of 12. After six years of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of those who were meant to protect her, she ran away and reported the rampant abuse at the Apna Ghar Shelter in Rohtak. Her testimony has led to the arrest of several people and rehabilitation of 130 girls.
Watch the extraordinary feats of these women in the special episodes starting today at 1.30 pm and 7.30 pm on CNN-IBN