Life has dealt Rajni Arya a few hard knocks, but she has always moved on. Separated from her husband, the single mother of two ran a dhaba at Rambada, on the Kedarnath route. But when the flash floods struck last year, her two sons, Sudhanshu, 14, and Harshit, 11, were swept away. “I could only watch as my sons were washed away. I could do nothing to save them,” says Rajni. A year later, Rajni has decided to move on, again. She is now contesting the zilla parishad election from Guptakashi seat. “I want to start all over again. I want to serve my people,” says Rajni, who is from Sherwani village but is out canvassing for votes in neighbouring Deoli.
Most of the locals who died in the floods were men from villages near the yatra route who ran shops and eateries in Gaurikund and other points to cater to tourists. They left behind women and children who found themselves thrust into the role of earning for their families. Deoli, about 7 km from Guptkashi, turned into a ‘village of widows’ — 31 women here lost their husbands to the tragedy.
Savitri Tewari’s husband owned two lodges near Kedarnath temple and died in the floods. She now works as an instructor at a sewing training centre set up by an NGO, Sulabh Hope Foundation, for the widows of Deoli. A graduate from Dehradun’s MPK College, Savitri gets Rs 4,000 for her work at the centre.
This year, Savitri will have to skip her annual visit to her parents in Dehradun. She is in charge of her family — her two daughters Disha (8) and Isha (2), in-laws and brother-in-law — and can’t afford to miss work. “My mother-in-law is ill. Two days ago, I had taken her to a hospital in Rishikesh where she was diagnosed with stones in her stomach. She needs a surgery. I will have to arrange money and take her back to Rishikesh,” she says.
Her aspirations are growing —“my main aim in life now is to ensure a good education for my daughters — and she knows her sewing job won’t sustain them. “I keep scanning newspapers to know about job vacancies. I also prepare for competitive exams,” she says.
Savitri’s father-in-law Sohan Lal Tewari, 64, says he has so far not got any compensation for the loss of property at Kedarnath. “It was a prime property. I am pursuing my case,” he says. Savitri got Rs 5 lakh as compensation from the state government. The Foundation pays Rs 2,000 to each member of the affected families and Savitri’s family gets Rs 12,000 a month.
Lamgondi, Deoli’s neighbouring village, has 15 women who lost their husbands in the same tragedy. Unlike in Deoli, no NGO has come here to help, but here too life goes on.
Vijay Lakshmi, 24, says she got a compensation of Rs 5 lakh from the state government and bought a buffalo for Rs 40,000. She was pregnant when her husband died in the floods. “I earn about Rs 1,500 a month by selling the milk,” she says.
Kameshwari Devi, 49, got her son married off within a year of her husband’s death. “My husband had found the match. So, I went ahead with his plan,” she says.