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Nearly two years ago, Chaya Mohan Raut was diagnosed with a kidney-related ailment. Raut, who had lost her husband five years ago, didn’t have the money to afford medical treatment. To add to her woes, her brother-in-law was pressuring her to hand over the half-acre land her husband had left behind.
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That’s when Raut called up her ‘bhau’ (brother), Sachin Katkar, and told him that she had decided to end her life by consuming pesticide and requested him to take care of her only daughter. An alarmed Katkar rushed to her house, promised to take care of her treatment and also issued a strict warning to her brother-in-law.
Raut is one of the 964 widows — from 14 talukas around Indapur — whom Katkar considers as his ‘sisters’. Katkar is one of the 300-odd men associated with the organisation Kamdhenu, formed seven years ago. The men, registered as ‘bhau’ with the organisation, are just a call away whenever these widows are in any kind of trouble —whether they have had a tiff with their in-laws, their daughter is facing harassment or they are having problems in registering a police complaint.
Bhau Beej — known as Bhai Dooj in north India — is a major occasion for Kamdhenu. Widows from all 14 talukas gather at Indapur to celebrate the festival with their ‘brothers’. They are gifted a set of glass bangles and a saree, before the women, along with their children, are treated to a lavish lunch. While Katkar has been paying for the bangles every year, Majid Pathan, another ‘bhau’, and his family have been sponsoring the lunch.
“The idea is to give them confidence that they are not alone,” said Dr Laxman Mahadev Asbe, a veterinary doctor and founder of Kamdhenu. However, not everyone can become a member of the organisation, which has two conditions for the men who want to register. They have to be teetotallers and must be living with their parents and taking care of them.
Not only are the ‘bhaus’ often invited to the wedding of their ‘sister’s’ children, sometimes their names are mentioned on the invitation card as the mama (mother’s brother) of the groom and the bride.
The ‘bhaus’ often pay for the educational expenses, up to Class X, of the children of these widows. “To raise money for the cause, every man who joins Kamdhenu has to pay a one-time registration fee Rs 11,000. Later, as and when needed, we voluntarily contribute as per our capacity,” says Majid Pathan, another ‘bhau’ of Kamdhenu.
Asbe decided to start Kamdhenu nearly six years ago when he visited Bhodni village to treat a cow, which belonged
to Ratan Balasaheb Kathe, a widow. “While I was talking to her outside her house, she fainted. After she regained consciousness, she told me about her woes… her husband had committed suicide by consuming pesticide. She had three daughters and a son and didn’t know how to make ends meet,” said Asbe.
“I couldn’t say much and I left… but her story kept on haunting me. After a few days, it was Bhau Beej and I had gone to buy a saree for my own sister. I don’t know what struck me, but I bought clothes and sweets for Ratan and her children as well. When I visited her that evening and gave her the gifts, she couldn’t stop crying. Her story made me realise how difficult the situation must be for women like her,” he said.