With the cloudburst that left over 5,000 people dead and washed away entire villages in a span of a few days last June, one can only be convinced that there would be a deadly silence in the air of Devli village in Rudraprayag district. However, this “village of widows” is not the archetypical congregation of women in white sarees staring at you in grief.
And with the chirping of birds from the nearby fields and other sounds of resurgence of life, including the sound from an election campaign vehicle that came from a distance, this correspondent made his way up the winding hills.
Despite its trials and tribulations, the villagers here say they would cast their vote in hope of a better future, though the memories of last year’s tragedy still haunt them every day.
Devli Bhanigram is called the “village of widows” after the flash floods struck Kedarnath area last year. The maha pralay, or the Himalayan Tsunami, that took thousands of lives in June 2013 killed 54 male members alone in this village, most of whom were working at the Kedarnath shrine as purohits (priests). About 25 men were killed in the adjoining Lamgondi village. And if that weren’t enough, 11 priests at the nearby Lumani village and three more priests from Pithora village in the same area also died in the floods.
Life may be at a standstill in Devli, but hope blossoms in the air. This village is the perfect example of the phrase ‘life goes on’.
The women have no grievances from the politicians and government as they think that the tragedy was not manmade and was a calamity sent by god. They say that they would vote for a change as they want a government that would help better their lives. The women are also firm that they would never marry again and instead focus on the education of their children, who are their only hope.
“We accepted what god has scripted for us and it is better to look towards the future than ruing the past, because what has happened cannot be changed now,” said Poonam Tiwari, sitting in the withering courtyard of her home in Devli. Poonam’s husband Suresh Tiwari, 28, a priest at Kedarnath, was killed in the deluge last year. The 25-year-old widow says that providing good education to her 4-year-old daughter is now the main aim of her life. An NGO here gives these widows `2,000 per month each and also teaches them professional skills such as sewing and computers.
For the women, the television set has created a political din in their lives. They know about Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal and other burning issues. Poonam says that despite her grief, she knows her responsibility of casting her vote as it helps in nation building.
Savitri Tiwari, 30, whose husband Deepak died in the deluge too, said that educated women like her are in more pain.
“Rather than a meagre financial help, we want permanent government jobs, which would help in educating our children better,” she said.
Savitri said that whenever the widows meet each other, they start crying on account of the common pain. She said that her daughters Disha, 7, and Isha, 2, have still not come to grips with reality. Disha keeps writing letters to her deceased father and Isha keeps dialling the phone to talk to her father, said Savitri’s father-in-law Sohan Lal Tiwari.
“The tragedy has shattered the lives of every villager,” he said with a choked throat.
Leela Devi, 48, whose husband Narendra Kumar Tiwari passed away in Kedarnath last year, says that the family is now facing economic crisis. She hopes that her vote would bring about a government that would help in solving some of the problems that confront them.