Volunteers: Anupama Pain and Gurudutt Shenoy
Duration: 20th to 30th July 2013
Location: Last village on the route to Kedar Valley
Purpose: First assessment of ground situation after the disaster, networking with local organizations/nodal agencies, coming up with tentative areas of impact work both in short and long run, aid in distribution of cash to families in need
40 year old Rupa Devi Bhat is a widow since 8 years now and works as a grass cutter to put food on plate and educate her 3 kids. This is very much the summary of her life now. A good future for the children. She works hard, nearly 10 hours each day and earns up to Rs. 5,000 monthly; barely managing her task. Toshi is the last village in the route from Guptkashi through Sonprayag towards Kedar valley … abode of the famous baba Kedar.
At 29 years of age, Saroj Devi Bhat with 3 kids and an ailing mother-in-law finds herself at the brink of poverty; not even able to mourn the recent death of her husband Mataram Prasad Bhat adequately. Mataram had his own small tea shop in Kedar valley and the family has seen good times – with the income from the shop for 4 peak pilgrim season months of year sufficient to sail them through the year. Saroj Devi was a housewife in Triyuginarayan, a village neighbouring Toshi and where it is believed that Shiva and Parvati married; taking care of errands but never really was concerned about a secure future. The night of the 16th June 2013 which saw the worst ever disaster hit the mountains, Saroj Devi lost her husband and a lot more.
Nearly 2 months now after nature’s fury coupled with a lot of wrongs man has been doing to the valleys since years; it is weird to see what a great equalizer time is. In another time and valley – Rupa and Saroj belonged to different worlds. Today as the time and valley changed, they both are the same. Both women poor, both with 3 kids and their secure future’s huge concern, both do not have any means to earn now, both faced with numerous fears and challenges which a widow faces in our society, both left with only memories of the man they love and had dreamt of growing old with.
I met them during our assessment of ground realities and relief material distribution in the said villages. They both sat next to each other, unaware of each other, awaiting their turns to receive the food packets and cash. Rupa Devi has worn out with time. Her struggle of 8 years and now no hope of improvement in that has made her realize that her children’s good future is worth everything, even giving away self esteem. She was requesting everyone around her for more help. Saroj Devi on the other hand was still angry. Angry with baba Kedar, with the valley, with time, with the Sarkar, fate and even with her husband to have abandoned her like this. Her wound is fresh. I understand why, she is just my age!
What lies ahead of them and many many more such families now will be decided by a lot of factors. And while thinking on all of that is now our tasks, at that relief camp, all we could do is listen and hope that they will stay afloat till the time and valley changes once again – this time for good.
*** Anupama is part of the core team of iVolunteer that is engaged in flood relief and reconstruction work in Uttarakhand.