For six months,Dhanita Arya would not get to hear her husband Sunils voice as he would leave their village Sirvani in Deoli-Bhaligram gram panchayat,and set out for Kedarnath with his mules. He would ferry the pilgrims around the temple town and return home with an average earning of Rs 2.5 lakh. This year,Sunil had promised her that she would be able to hear his voice every day during the six-month yatra. He had gifted her a mobile phone before he left for Kedarnath in April. He would call Dhanita at the end of the day and tell her what he had earned,what he had eaten,whom he had ferried. But on June 16,Sunil didnt call. Dhanita called him several times but there was no response. For four days,Dhanita waited. Then on June 20,her brother-in-law Shankar,who had accompanied Sunil,returned and told her that her husband had been washed away by the floods.
A 23-year-old Dalit,Dhanita is the youngest among the 35 women of Deoli Bhaligram who were widowed by the Uttarakhand floods and landslides this year that left 5,000 people dead.
Three months after Sunil went missing his body was never recovered Dhanita delivered their third child. Now Dhanitas life revolves around planning for the future of her children four-year-old Ruchita,three-year-old Sudhanshu and the three-month-old Sonakshi. My children are my only inspiration to live, she says. She also takes care of her 65-year-old mother-in-law Shyama Devi.
Dhanita received compensation of Rs 5 lakh from the state government,and another Rs 1 lakh for two of her husbands four mules. He did not have a licence for the other two mules he had purchased for Rs 1.1 lakh on credit. He had also borrowed Rs 40,000 from a trader for purchasing ration during the non-yatra season. Dhanita decided to repay Sunils debts first before planning her own purchases. I wanted to bear all of my husbands responsibilities, she says.
Pregnant,she waited till September,when Sonakshi was born. I was physically fit by then to discharge my duties, she says. She needs to trek 10 km to Guptakashi,the nearest town,in the first week of every month to buy ration,and to withdraw money from the bank account the government opened for the compensation.
Over the months,more help has come in Rs 62,000 from an American aid agency and
Rs 10,000 per month over the next five years from an NGO. Her small one-room house,provided to the family under the Indira Awaas Yojna,is cramped with compensatory items received from the state government an LPG cylinder,a cooking gas stove and a water purifier. I am yet to learn how to use the purifier, she chuckles. She also still cooks with wood,saving LPG for future use. A tiny TV set lies on the floor. I purchased it for Rs 4,800 for my childrens entertainment, she says.
Dhanita often meets other widows of her village to learn of their investment plans. They told me that the rate of gold always increases,so I have gotten in touch with a jeweller, she says. She does not want to rely on investments alone though. She plans to learn new skills to earn money. An NGO has donated sewing machines and computers for the use of village widows. They plan to open a centre here to teach us how to use them. I would enrol if they do, says the Class VII dropout. Before the June disaster,she sold wood to earn some extra money.
Recently,she enquired with the bank about opening a recurring deposit account. I want to see my children grow up to be doctors,engineers or government employees, she says.