With the changing time and social needs, women have changed themselves. There is a good number of women who, while carrying out their regular domemstic duties, have made a deep imprint outside their home also. The activities of the women like Dr Lakshmi Gautam, Dr Santosh Dahiya, Roshani Mukherjee and Bhakti Sharma have brought a positive change in the lives of many in their areas of working
It is around 2 pm in the afternoon. At an old age home in Vrinadvan, the famous religious town in Uttar Pradesh, Dr Lakshmi Gautam is assuring an old lady that everything will be all right. That old lady is suffering from paralysis and her relatives left her to fend for herself at this old age home. The frail woman says as she notices Dr Gautam: “When you come you bring happiness to me”. As soon as the news of her arrival spreads in the old age home, dozens of old age women inmates gather around her. One amongst them is Shyamali who hails from 24 Parganas district in West Bengal. She hugs Dr Gautam and says: “You are our support. When you come we feel someone is here who cares for us.”
This incident is special because when we went to meet Dr Gautam she, as usual, was at the old age home. She visits the place daily, listens to problems of the old women, shares their grief and helps them solve their problems.
Dr Gautam is president of Kanakdhara Foundation and also a lecturer in IOP College. But she spends maximum of her time for this work. A major portion of her routine is devoted to the service of these old ladies. She gets up at 5.00 am in the morning, takes a walk beside the Yamuna and if she finds any hapless woman she takes her to a proper caring home. This has been going on for nearly two decades. Taking ailing women to a hospital, feeding the hungry or helping them in getting pension or ration cards are inseparable parts of her routine. People of Vrindavan are familiar with her service activities and also devotion to the cause. If someone sees any orphan woman, they bring her to her doorstep. Vrindavan is the home for such destitute women of the country. Figures speak for themselves. Family disputes, deserting by family members, or destitute widows flock Vrindavan and their number goes up to 10,000!!
Dr Gautam says her father came from Teerth Purohit family. That used to bring a number of women from west Bengal to our home. I grew with them, in their laps. One amongst them was Latika, whom I used to call mother. I noticed that she used to wear white saris, and had head tonsured. I used to get scolded for enquiring about this from my father. Later, I came to know that she was a widow. Her husband died just one year after the marriage and that prohibited her from leading a normal life. Since then she thought of doing something for these women. Her mission got accelerated after being elected as ward member from Banke Bihari Athkhamba ward of Vrindavan in 1995. “This helped me to complete the works of such destitute mothers. My efforts were to provide them healthcare and other facilities. There were some difficulties too. But after 2008 there was no looking back. Whether it is day or night, I rush to help such women as soon as I get the information,” she says.
Though many service projects are being run in the religious city for welfare of these women, there is no major change in the outlook of the society towards such women. Dr Gautam cites an emotional example, “One day I received a phone call informing about a woman being found near Yamuna in an unconscious and completely uncovered state. There were many people there but nobody realised the need to take her to safe place and cover her body. I rushed to the spot and took her to a nearby hospital. From there also she was taken to an old age home after the treatment.”
Dr Gautam rushes to rescue of any woman even in the dead of the night as soon as she gets the news. So far she has helped nearly 1,000 women reunite them with their families. Hundreds of such women have been given better place for living. She was awarded with Nari Shakti Puraskar by the President of India in 2014 besides other awards. She says, “There are over 4000 destitute women in Vrindavan who have come from other states. Most of them go for begging for food or medicine. I do help them but I know my limits.”
Talking about the difficulties she faced in her two decade journey of the service activities, she says, “Whenever a woman crosses her home boundary and ventures in the open she is bound to face hurdles and difficulties. But they come with an opportunity and we need to identify that. For example, to go to a cremation and perform the last rites of a unidentified woman is a challenge for any woman. But I accepted it. When people oppose it, I dare say them why don’t you do it? They just keep mum.”
Dr Gautam feels that if the condition of the women has to be improved it should begin with total curb on female feticide. We must allow the girls to be born, educate them and consider them as assets and not a liability. The day we do this, situation will change automatically.
Prof Santosh Dahiya’s story is different. Born at Deeghal village under Jhajjar district of Haryana she teaches at Kurukshetra University. Haryana is the state where crass discrimination is done against the women and girls. But now this is changing. Today, Prof Dahiya has become a powerful voice of the women in the state. She has become a voice for those girls waiting to see the light of the day and those who cover their faces behind a veil. She sits with the Khap meeting and listens to their issues. No woman ever dared to sit in the Khap with male members earlier, but Dahiya does it. She is the national president of Sarvakhap women wing.
“I have seen the narrow mindset of the womenfolk and tolerated this. I was a state level swimmer, but I had to give it up because of the swimming costume and social opposition to it in case of women. But I did not give up. I participated in other games and brought laurels to my village and state,” Dr Dahiya says adding that she has launched a massive ‘save girl child’ movement in Haryana which is infamous for its strong bias against girls. Her attention is focused on saving the girl child. She travels to remote areas of the state for this and administers oaths to people. She had obtained signatures of thousands of people in the paper for this. She adopted one Mujadpur village for this movement, where in 2013-14 the proportion of girls was 273 per 1000 boys! She has also launched a movement against the practice of veil in the state. She has launched a campaign of ‘Hamara Bana, Pardamukta Haryana’ for this purpose. She has been honoured for her mission from time to time.
Roshni Mukherjee lives in Bengaluru. She did her M.Sc in Physics from Delhi University and runs a website for students from 6 to 12 standards for free education. She began it in 2011. She came to Bengaluru after completing her education and joined an IT company where she served for six years. But she was not happy with her job alone. She always thought for herself that a teacher alone can bring about a desired change in the life of the students and nobody else. She decided to use the internet for providing quality education to the children. She knew the power of internet as she was working with an IT company. She knew that she can contact lakhs of people through this medium. She recalls how a maidservant in her house used to complain about the quality of education of her child. “I saw a dream for her son in her eyes. I was fulltime working and did not know how to help her son. I hardly got time to do something for such students.”
Finally, she started her web portal, www.examfear.com in 2011. She used to work for the day in her office and upload material on her portal at night. “This was the most difficult time for me, as I could not devote sufficient time for both the works. So, I
decided to quit the job in 2014 and devoted my time and energy to my portal full time,” she said.
She has prepared more than 5000 educational videos till now on subjects like Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Mathematics explaining them in the easiest way to the students. The students visit the portal daily, see the video and put their queries, take their notes and take a test at the end and assess themselves. Roshani says with pride that over one lakh students are attached to her portal. Looking at this wonderful mission of Roshani, the Women and Child Development Ministry selected her amongst the 100 powerful women of the country.
The story of Bhakti Sharma, the young Sarpanch of Barkhedi Abdulla Panchayat in Bhopal is different. She too was selected to be amongst the 100 powerful women for changing the face of her village and developing it. The President of India felicitated her on January 22 for her achievements. Serene and calm looking Bhakti is darling of her village. She returned from the USA to serve the village and her people and changed the face of her village totally. There is freedom from drinking water supply problem, roads are made for better transport, and so on. She derived inspiration to work for the people from her father. She says, “I did my MA in political Science from Nutan College of Bhopal. My half of the family was already in the US and later I too went there. But I used to feel the urge for serving the people at home. Her father used to say “Never go after money alone”. This shook her and she decided to return to her village. When she returned the village was to elect its Sarpanch and the seat was reserved for open category women. People approached her and she accepted their request, got elected to the post. “That really tested my patience”, she said.
“I decided to utilise the chance I got and accorded priority to basic issues,” she said adding that her first priority was to construct latrines in each house. Next was to solve the problem of potable water supply. “That is now taken care of”. Bhakti gives her two month honorarium to the woman, who gives birth to a girl child under the Chief Minister’s Beti Bachao Yojna. Similarly, a tree is planted in her name in the Village Panchayat land. It has been just a year
when she became Sarpanch, but she has proved her mettle in this short span.
Really, women are endowed with great strength. Apart from discharging their domestic responsibilities they can play a constructive role in social transformation. What they need is the chance to prove their worth. Today they are working in the fields where no one dared to work earlier.