U’khand Village of widows cries for help

Two months after the catastrophic cloud burst at Kedarnath, Savitri Tiwari (26) gave birth to a son, who could never see his father’s face. Now, two years after the incident, Savitri works at a small-time Anganwadi at her native hamlet, Pithora, in the Deoli-<g data-gr-id="79">Bhanigram</g> village of Uttarakhand. She earns scarcely enough for her family of two – herself and the toddler.

Vasundhra Baghwari, who is in her late forties, lost her husband and two sons – aged 16 and 18 years – in the same disaster. Her husband was a priest at Kedarnath and her sons had accompanied their father for a vacation after their board exams. Baghwari now lives alone in the two-room accommodation, which her husband left her, atBhanigram hamlet in the same village. She survives with the compensation she received after her husband did not return for months and was assumed to be dead, like many others.

Savitri and Vasundhra are not alone. At Deoli-<g data-gr-id="76">Bhanigram</g>, there are 55 others like them, struggling to eke out a livelihood after their husbands’ death. The catastrophe that hit Kedarnath on June 16, 2013, took away 57 men from the village. What used to be the village of priests, soon earned the moniker: the Village of Widows. With the <g data-gr-id="77">solebread</g>-earners of their families gone and the government compensation exhausted – on food, medicines, children’s education and their marriage – faster than the <g data-gr-id="78">widows</g> had imagined, they are now in dire need of a regular and reliable income source.

The <g data-gr-id="80">Deoli</g>-<g data-gr-id="81">Bhanigram</g> village comprises of nine hamlets – Deoli, Dungri, <g data-gr-id="82">Dhambas</g>, <g data-gr-id="83">Ghagora</g>, <g data-gr-id="84">Maanpur</g>, Sherwani, Pardhara, Pithora and <g data-gr-id="85">Bhanigram</g> – and has a population of around 2000 people. Most of the men in the village work as priests at Kedarnath for the pilgrimage season that lasts for around six months. They rent rooms at Kedarnath during the pilgrimage season and earn for the entire year during those months. They spend the rest at home with families. After the incident, a private enterprise and an NGO arrived at the village as saviours. Both started providing them with vocational training in stitching and sewing.

“After around six months of providing training, the private enterprise provided jobs to around 150 women in the village. But a wage rate of Rs 60 for a  hard day’s work is unjust. Still, something is better than nothing,” said Leela Devi, who works there. Her husband never returned after the disaster but her son, whose wife was also pregnant then, survived. Both were priests at Kedarnath.
The village now has a new road and visiting the nearest hospital has become easier. But as far as the task of providing jobs to us is concerned, the government has failed, Leela Devi added.

The NGO, on the other hand, continued with vocational training and added basic computer skills to its curriculum. “It has been almost two years and we are trained now. We are capable of earning a livelihood from that if we are given an opportunity,” said 20-year-old Bhavna Tiwari, Leela Devi’s daughter.

 “This year, a new batch of villagers – comprising mostly youths – went to Kedarnath, to make a living as pilgrimage priests. This batch doesn’t include too many of those priests who had survived the 2013 disaster, witnessed their friends and families die and come back home traumatised. Most of them have rather preferred to change their occupation,” added Bhavna, whose brother is also one of those survivors who has now started a small grocery shop in the village.

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