DRESSED IN a rustling silk sari, Subhashini Vasanth looks straight at the camera, her head held high and eyes twinkling bright. While poise and grace in a dancer’s posture is unmistakable, Subhashini is a true braveheart who hasn’t let difficult times shatter her. Instead, this Army widow has channelled her grief and pain into social service.
Founder of Vasantharatna Foundation, started in the memory of her husband Colonel Vasanth V, who was posthumously awarded the Ashok Chakra in 2008 for his selfless, supreme sacrifice while fighting terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir, Subhashini is on a mission to help widows of martyred jawans and their families.
On Wednesday, actor Sonam Kapoor, who stars in the forthcoming biopic Neerja, based on the life of Neerja Bhanot, will confer the 24th Neerja Bhanot award on Subhashini for her work and courage under trying circumstances. “I am humbled and at the same time very proud. Neerja was also an Ashok Chakra awardee like my husband and this connection makes it all the more special,” says Subhashini.
The annual award comprises Rs 1,50,000, a citation and a trophy. The awardee is selected by a specially constituted jury on the basis of a three-point criteria: an Indian woman subjected to social justice, on counts such as dowry, desertion etc, faces the situation with guts and grit and then makes a success of life by assisting other women in similar social distress. Based in Bangalore, Subhashini is a stellar example on all counts.
She started her NGO the same year that her husband attained martyrdom. She was 36 then. “I still don’t know where I drew my strength from. I just knew that I had to be there for my two daughters who were just 10 and seven years old when the tragedy happened,” reminisces Subhashini who is a trained classical dancer.
At the time of his death, Colonel Vasanth was leading the 9th Maratha Infantry against militants in the Uri sector of Kashmir. “The reason I decided to reach out to widows and families of shaheed jawans is because they are forgotten soon after the person’s martyrdom,” says Subhashini.
The first initiative that she took was to provide education scholarships to children and emotional and legal counselling to widows. “Often I was told that the government looks after the families but it is not enough. Did you know a martyred jawan’s child gets Rs 800 annually for shoes and uniform? And often the widows and their children don’t know how to get their reimbursements. It took me four years to complete my own paperwork,” she laments, adding that one of the key areas of work of her NGO is to act as a bridge between the larger society, government agencies and the families of martyrs.
Apart from raising funds for education scholarships, Subhashini’s NGO conducts empowerment programmes and outbound learning programmes for both women and children including vocational training and employment opportunities to families.
“I have also instituted memorial awards in honour of martyrs and I intend to use the Neerja Bhanot award money for the same,” says Subhashini who works with a small team which includes two war widows. “So far I have worked with families in Karnataka and I am keen to reach out to more widows and families in other parts of the country.”
Remembering Colonel Vasanth, she says, “He was a simple, honest man who was passionate about his work and did his best for the nation.”