The loss of a child is a soul-crushing, irreversible agony. When a child dies, the mother loses a part of herself. The emotional upheaval is too much for a human being to deal with, and mothers drown into grief for the rest of their lives. However, there are some with superhuman abilities who find the inner strength to defeat the evil that snatched their child. We feature gritty mothers who fought back, not only to get justice to their own child, but also pledged to save others from the pain they went through. They tell us what stopped them from falling apart in the face of indescribable, devastating grief.PHOTO BY RAAJESSH KASHYAP/HTNilam KataraNitish always stood up for what is right. I believed in him. When we called Nilam Katara, a hoarse, confident and determined voice greeted us from the other side. Just like she sounds, Katara is strong, unwavering. She has fought against criminals blinded by political power to get justice for her son, Nitish Katara. On 17 February 2002, Nitish Katara, 24, was brutally murdered in the name of saving family honour by Vikas Yadav, the son of strongman-politician DP Yadav as Katara was in love with VIkas’s sister, Bharti Yadav. “My son’s body was a mess. I would have crumbled but in a moment of reckoning, I thought that if I don’t stand up for my son now, then other children would also suffer. Also because Nitish always stood up for what is right. I believed in him. That gave me strength at every step,” says Nilam. There was a time when the courts denied Katara’s death to be a result of honour killing which shook Nilam the most. However, it was later proved and today Nilam has found the strength to help those affected by honour killing. She provides legal, emotional and psychological counselling to those who have experienced similar tragedies and are fighting similar battles. She also speak at public platforms about politicisation of crime and honour killing. “ We need a law against honour killing. It’s a crime triggered by hatred. It stops a girl from making her own choice. There is no ruckus about honour killing. It doesn’t move people enough because maybe the numbers are less than rape cases. The political leaders in our country should mention it in their constituencies, but people are scared to talk about it . It’s about patriarchy, it’s about caste, religion and class. It should be taken out from the bag of ‘honour’ as it’s nothing but medieval thinking and we should move past it,” says Nilam.PHOTO: MANOJ VERMA/HINDUSTAN TIMESAnkit Saxena’s mother, Kamlesh SaxenaAnkit wanted love and peace to prevail When 23-year-old Ankit Saxena fell in love with Shehzadi, his Muslim neighbour, it didn’t occur to him even once that he was committing an unpardonable sin. Ankit, who dreamt of becoming a famous photographer one day, treated the mosque and the temple alike. Ankit’s throat was slashed by Shehzadi’s father and uncle for defying and overcoming the societal prejudice that expected him to hate Muslims. Ankit bled to death in his mother’s lap. It has been 4 months since Ankit died and his mother Kamlesh hasn’t been able to cook any food since then. The neighbours send them meals. She doesn’t talk much. But when you ask her about the Ankit Saxena Trust that she plans to open along with her husband, Yashpal Saxena, her eyes light up. “I want to spread the message of love and peace. That’s what Ankit would have wanted to prevail in this country. That’s the only way to conquer hatred,” she says. Kamlesh remembers how Ankit got along with his Muslim friends. “Humne use kabhi fark karna nahin sikhaya. (We never taught him to discriminate). He would mix up with Muslims and Hindus alike. Hatred serves no one any good. Through this trust, we will help unite inter-religious couples. This is what Ankit would have wanted,” says the brave woman who gave birth to a talented boy. One who was punished by his own countrymen for having a heart that didn’t know how to hate. “It would be easy to give in to hatred. But we don’t want any more Ankit Saxenas to suffer. We don’t want any other human being to go through the ordeal that we are living. We owe this to Ankit,” she says.Sheeba Ameer from Kerala I won’t let my daughter down, even in deathWhen Sheeba Ameer from Kerala learnt that her 13-year-old daughter was suffering from cancer, her world crashed. However, she was determined to cure her daughter, Nilofer. She spent several years in hospitals, consulting doctors and getting the best possible treatment for her. After several chemo sessions and a bone marrow transplant, Nilofer started recovering. But just when Sheeba thought that life would be back to normal, Sheeba lost her daughter to serious medical complications. Cancer had weakened her and the girl gave up after 16 years of fight. “In the hospital with Nilofer, I saw other kids who were suffering in pain. After, I lost my child; I didn’t want any other mother to lose her kid. I started Solace, a centre to lend financial support to such children,” says Sheeba . Today, through Solace, she has helped many. According to Ameer, in 2014, the center offered support of ₹78 lakh to kids suffering from serious ailments. In 2015, the amount went up to ₹1.14 crores. What kept her going after her daughter’s death? “It was a promise made to her. Nilofer taught me to never give up. She lived to teach me to do something worthwhile. She will always be immortal,” says Sheeba. PHOTO BY SARANG GUPTA/HINDUSTAN TIMES)Neelma KrishnamurthyThe fire within her won’t die outOn 11 May 1997, Unnati, 17, and Ujjwal, 13, gave their mom, Neelam Krishnamurthy a Mother’s Day card. It was the last card she received from her kids. The kids went to Uphaar cinema to watch the movie, Border on 13 June, 1997. The cinema hall caught fire and killed 59 people, including her children. “The owners wanted a little more profit, and didn’t care about 59 lives,” says Neelam, the president of the Association of Victims of the Uphaar Tragedy who has been crusading to get justice to the victims of the tragedy for the last 21 years. Neelam has been fighting to push for a stringent fire safety law in a country that reports around 62 deaths per day, but still flouts safety norms unabashedly. “There is absolutely no concept of fire safety in India. Our policy makers are not concerned about human life,” says Neelam. The woman says that her biggest setback in life was to see the accused proved guilty in court but still walk free. But Neelam is unbreakable. She continues to fight a legal battle against the Ansals, accused of tampering of evidence. Neelam also conducts fire safety workshops in the city and works to sensitise people about fire safety. There’s fire within her that won’t die out.RAAJESSH KASHYAP/HTDorris FrancisI don’t fear death anymore, I’ve nothing to loseWearing salwar kameez and a blue cap, with a stick in her hand and a whistle in her mouth, 60- year-old Dorris Francis cuts an intriguing figure on National Highway 24, as she signals vehicles to halt or move. You are filled with awe when you come to know her story. In 2009, Dorris Francis was travelling in a tuk tuk with her 20 -year-old daughter Nikki when it was hit by a speeding car. She survived but Nikki could not make it. At that moment, Dorris pledged that she would not let any other accident take place at the spot. For the last 9 years, Dorris has been unfailingly turning up at the highway every morning from Monday to Friday, 7am to 11am to control traffic. Her fight with cancer hasn’t weakened her resolve. There hasn’t been a single accident when Dorris has been present at the spot. “My daughter must be happy about it. The joy that you get by saving someone’s life is incomparable,” says the woman who has been assaulted several times by goons who dislike her work. “I constantly get death threats, but I don’t care. I don’t fear death anymore,” says the gritty woman.