Uncertain future for families who lost breadwinners in Uttarakhand tragedy

The 2013 floods washed away their men out on job in Uttarakhand’s Kedar valley. A year and a half later, as the numbness injected by the catastrophe begins to wear off, the women are waking up to the pain of an uncertain future without breadwinners.
A-view-of-flooded-Mandakini-river-in-Chamoli-district-on-Tuesday-followed-by-heavy-rains-in-Uttarakhand-PTI
A-view-of-flooded-Mandakini-river-in-Chamoli-district-on-Tuesday-followed-by-heavy-rains-in-Uttarakhand-PTI
Published on Jan 23, 2015 03:38 PM IST
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None | By, Dehradun

The 2013 floods washed away their men out on job in Uttarakhand’s Kedar valley. A year and a half later, as the numbness injected by the catastrophe begins to wear off, the women are waking up to the pain of an uncertain future without breadwinners.

According to a scalding report released by the state women’s commission recently, the government has ignored the families who lost their sole earning male members to the disaster.

The Kedar valley in Rudraprayag that cradles the fabled shrine of Kedarnath was the worst hit in the flash floods. According to the conservative government estimate, 4,200 people were killed in the floods in the state. Men were killed in large numbers as they were away from home working in hotels and lodges, or, ferrying pilgrims on their horses in Kedarnath and the mountainous pilgrimage route to the temple town.

“The government’s entire focus is on the reconstruction of the Kedar valley. But it has completely neglected the crucial livelihood issues facing the adolescent girls and their mothers whose husbands were killed in the flash floods,” said Sujata, the member-secretary of the women’s commission, who authored the report.

She was critical of the government’s lack of interest in shoring up the lives of women being swallowed by the quicksand of livelihood woes. “It (government) has not taken any action on our report in which we had suggested measures for creating self-employment opportunities for the women of the Kedar valley,” she told Hindustan Times on Thursday.

Dungar Semla is one such village where 13 men were killed in the tragedy. The flood widows here are struggling to raise money to meet the expenses that are growing along with their children.

“A steady income is needed to meet the increasing expenses of our children, most of whom are still in schools,” the study quoted the widows as saying.

“Schemes to address the livelihood issues of women should have been initiated along with the reconstruction of the disaster-hit areas. Similarly, the government has also failed to initiate schemes to provide psychological support to the women,” said Prof MM Semwal of HNB Garhwal University.

The commission report said most widows and their grown-up daughters were still in a state of fear and shock.

A majority of the adolescent girls of the village of Nala are worried about the threat of an early marriage. The families are eager to marry them off as early as possible as they had no income to fund their education.

“The girls therefore wanted the government to create some employment opportunities for them so that they could earn money and also continue their schooling,” the report said.

The commission’s suggestion to introduce a counselling programme to lift the spirits of the helpless widows has also been ignored.

The report also suggests that women widowed during the 2013 floods be provided widow pension at the earliest and the families affected by the disaster in the Kedar valley be brought under the National Food Security Scheme.

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