A year later, Uttarakhand's 'Village of Widows' struggles for survival

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Deoli (Uttarakhand), June 16: On this very day last year, "god's own land" as the hill state of Uttarakhand is called, faced the worst fury of nature which left several thousand people dead and widespread devastation in rain-triggered floods.

The ones who died have gone by. But life has become difficult for the families of the dead and the ones who have managed to survive the tragedy, as they are left with no source of livelihood.

Most of the men from Deoli village who died in the floods were either priests, hoteliers or porters - the bread winners of the families who are dependent on the pilgrimage season.

The ones who have survived are so traumatised that they are terrified to go back to Kedarnath temple, 30 km away, and work.

Rikhuli Devi's eyes still well up when she talks about the fateful day when she lost her son.

Speaking to IANS, Devi said: "My son died at Kedarnath. He was a 'pandit' (priest). For his death we got money, but what will my two grandsons do? There is nothing left for them to do, everything has been washed away."

This story is not only of Rikhuli Devi, but of Maya Suri, Sangrami Devi and many more who inhabit this village in Deoli Bhanigram, which is rather sadly called "Village of Widows", where 57 men lost their lives.

"My husband was taken by the river in Kedarnath. I have kids to look after and do not know what I will do. The six months that he used to earn at Kedarnath temple used to be enough for our family, but now I do not know what is in store," Maya Suri, a resident of the village, told the visiting IANS correspondent.

Many who have survived say it would have been better if they too had been taken away by the floodwaters, than living a life of penury.

"I was at Gaurikund when the flash floods came. Hungry for five days I walked and reached home. I used to carry people to the Kedarnath shrine. Thinking about that day still gives me shivers and I feel weak," Govind Prasad, a resident of Pithora another village in the gram panchayat, told IANS.

There are many like Prasad in this village who admit that the scenes of devastation and death of a year ago still haunt them, and every time there is a small thunder lightning they want to run away.

"By god's grace I did not lose anybody, but my bread earning son Prakash has been sick since then. He gets terrified at everything and hardly talks," Rukmani Devi, 72, told IANS.

The village hamlet is desperately seeking for help, medical attention, but not much help has been coming from the government.

The government is building roads to the village, but the need of the hour is different for them.

Hence, this village was adopted by Sulabh International, a NGO, in December last year. It is providing the widows, elders and children with Rs.2,000 a month.

Along with it every affected family in the nearby six villages is being given an allowance of Rs.1,000 every month.

"The monthly relief being given will not cheer them, but at least it will give them a small source of income to run their families. The amount will be paid to them for the next five years, and will try to rehabilitate them so that they can get the thread of their life together," said Bindeshwar Pathak, founder Sulabh International.

The organisation has also set up 12 computers and 25 sewing machines for the village people to learn some skills.

They are also being taught candle making.

"I am learning how to sew clothes and the art of candle making so that I can do something for my children," Dhanita Arya, the youngest among 34 women of this gram panchayat who was widowed, told IANS.

Dhanita, 23, lost her husband Sunil in the devastation and has two daughters and one son to look after.

The Sulabh projects may have given the women a ray of hope but they are still worried about their children's marriage and education.

"My son, daughter-in-law are gone but how will I educate my granddaughters? Life ahead is very difficult," Rukmani Devi told IANS.

However, the NGO is determined to turn the 'Village of Widows' into a model village and is urging corporates and the government to help them.

"Whatever is possible to mitigate the sufferings of these hapless women, Sulabh will try its best. We have always helped people in distress, and in this instance of Himalayan tsunami, our efforts will match the magnitude of the devastation," Pathak told IANS.

IANS

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