Committed to the welfare of Vrindavan widows
The plight of Vrindavan widows transformed Laxmi Gautam into a social activist. Now 55, She was awarded Special HT Woman Award-2018 in social work category.lucknow Updated: May 17, 2018 13:59 IST
A young girl being brought up in the family of ‘teerth purohit’ (priest) in the lanes of Vrindavan always had queries whenever she saw women wearing white sarees with their heads shaven.
Soon, she realised they were widows mostly from West Bengal.
The plight of Vrindavan widows transformed her into a social activist. She prepared a report on these widows and submitted it to the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA). Later, the Supreme Court took note of it and passed relevant orders.
Now 55, Laxmi Gautam was awarded Special HT Woman Award-2018 in social work category.
Born and brought up in Vrindavan, Gautam continues to remain engaged with social causes mainly related to women.
SOCIAL ACTIVIST IN THE MAKING
“As my father was a religious person, I was curious about these widows having shaven heads, wearing white sarees and deprived of worldly pleasures. At the age of 8, I got the answers to my questions from a 70-year-old widow,” she recalls.
“I lost my husband when I was your age, is what the woman replied when I asked her this question,” says Gautam.
“This moved me and I started thinking of doing something for the widows. This brought a change in me but I continued with my studies and won gold medal in history from Agra University. I completed PhD in History and Hindi before joining the Institute of Oriental Philosophy, Vrindavan, as associate professor,” she says.
COMMITTED TO FAMILY
In her mission, Gautam gets support from her husband Vijay Kumar Gautam who works in a bank. Her elder son Abon Gautam is a scientist at Bhabha Research Centre in Mumbai and younger son Shubham is employed with merchant navy. Her daughter Avanika Gautam is a judicial officer.
“Our family has the blessings of Goddess Saraswati. My daughter-in-law is preparing for judicial services and god willing she will succeed,” she says.
Her passion for the cause of women and commitment to solving the problems of widows led the foundation of ‘Kanak Dhara’ – an organisation working for social causes.
Gautam was the first woman vice-chairman of Vrindavan Nagar Palika in 1995.
She also took up the cause of girls who were being maligned on social sites by a man who used to post their photographs with indecent comments. The accused was finally arrested.
FOR THE CAUSE OF WIDOWS
While working for widows, she also came across other problems like child marriage, rape, domestic violence, and abuse.
“While carrying out a survey in 2011, I found that in certain ashrams in Vrindavan, bodies of widows were not being cremated properly. The bodies used to be abandoned at the place where these women died. Whenever sweepers got time the next day, they would break the corpse which would have become stiff, stuff it in a sack and dispose of the bodies. This survey conducted for the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) created a worldwide uproar,” she says.
“The Supreme Court ordered videography of the last rites of widows dying in Vrindavan. On my part, I vowed to cremate the disowned bodies of widows,” says Gautam, who was nominated second time for the HT Woman Award.
AWARDS AND RECOGNITION
On March 8, 2015, Laxmi Gautam was one of the six women in the country who received the Nari Shakti Puraskar from the then President Pranab Mukherjee.
After receiving HT Woman Award from chief minister Yogi Adityanath, Gautam thanked Hindustan Times for bestowing the honour on her.
“I am not a social worker since rape victims or widows are not a social class. I am simply a woman who is trying to help other women. I hope to find women like myself who are willing to provide aid to women who need help.”
(With inputs from Kruti Suresh)