Re-Kindling Hope
in Uttarakhand

While death and destruction continue to hound the dark alleys of Uttarakhand, six young women dynamos of the Art of Living Foundation risked their own lives to bring about an awe-inspiring transformation in the scattered lives of several ill-fated women reeling in shock and grief, ever since tragedy struck. The poignant tales reflect the beginning of a new chapter amidst the ruins.

“I have finally found the strength to accept the reality that dawned on us,” says a grief-stricken Yamini, who lost both her sons in the flashfloods at Kedarnath on the fateful day of 16th June. “I think I want to live now, so that my children will rest in peace,” she states.

Hundreds of women across the flood-ravaged areas feel touched and echo the same sentiment. They are slowly emerging from their shadows and letting out their steam. Quite a few are even stepping out of their homes and interacting with people who come to meet them. Better still, many are contemplating on shouldering their own responsibilities in their guardian’s absence. What is it that is inspiring these women to put their past behind?

Gravity of the situation

“Even we are intrigued and touched,’’ says Garima Sharma, Art of Living volunteer and Senior Marketing Manager, Deutsche Bank, Mumbai. Garima is a part of the Mumbai-based team that has been ceaselessly striving to mitigate the woes of the female victims.

“While distributing relief material and ration to the needy, we realised that it was equally important to get women out of their traumatic state. They were steeped in pain and misery and were the worst hit as they were completely dependent on the menfolk for economic and emotional support. If they were not treated in time, they would lose their mental sanity, once the food supplies were exhausted,” she adds.

When women bond

However tackling these women wasn’t any bit easy. On the contrary, it was an arduous task to even strike a conversation with them. Most of them prayed for another disaster to strike, so that even they could perish. A few others had lost their faith in the Divine and expressed their resentment. Like 50-year-old Rukmimi Devi from Rudrapur village refused to budge from her seat or even open her eyes. The woman had lost her entire family and she lay in bed, still and silent, a wet towel across her sunken cheeks and eyes. She didn’t want to see anyone anymore. “But we managed to break the ice,” reveals Neetika and Gayatri, volunteers from the same team.

They further added, “We kept chatting with her, held her hand, hugged her and coaxed her to talk. And after 45 minutes, Rukmini broke down. She howled in grief and wrung her hands in despair. When she settled down, we took her through a 10-minute soothing meditation session and put her into a state of calm. Today the frail woman has moved out of her bed and has found solace through chanting and meditation.”

Rising from the ashes

Led by Dr Rohit Sabharwal, senior teacher with the organisation, the Mumbai gang of girls have succeeded in relieving over 250 women across areas like Guptkashi, Badasu, Kalimuth, Toshi, TriyugiNarayan, Rudrapur, Phata and others.

“We have conducted more than 15 medical camps in these areas and have managed to get several women to attend the camp and collect medicines,” says Vinilla, the young and sporting enthusiast from Mumbai. “We have also conducted our stress-elimination programs and it gives me so much joy to see women smiling through their tears. Most of them have found a platform to vent their angst, as they have not cried for days together. In fact, it is an overwhelming experience to witness this kind of miracle unfolding everyday.

Today, as we visit these places regularly, women smile and acknowledge our presence. They have placed their trust in us and have expressed their willingness to live with a purpose. What more do you want? Even if one person has found a reason to smile, my job is half-done. The rest will follow suit," says Vinilla.

When the going gets tough

Even as though, several relief operations are going on in full swing in various affected areas of Uttarakhand, what is commendable is the spirit of these six young women that saw them fighting insurmountable odds and serving the needy. “Yes, it was very challenging for all of us to survive and sustain inhospitable conditions,” says Garima. “We belong to the plains and are not familiar with the weather and mountains of Uttarakhand. But we literally walked past landslides, crossed mountains with backpacks loaded with relief material, struggled on the terrains, waded through slurry and muddy waters and even walked on cracked roads that would be washed away sooner or later, owing to heavy rainfall," Garima says. 

"In fact the roads are completely damaged in Sonprayag and there is no way to go to Toshi or TriYugiNarayan. But we went trekking through steep mountains and accomplished our mission. Once we thought we almost lost our lives, when boulders fell quickly off a mountain, as we were passing by. We ducked our heads and were saved in the nick of time,” she elaborates.

The spirit of volunteerism

Despite the death traps laid out for them, women volunteers of the Art of Living foundation remain unnerved and unbeaten by the odds. At times, they go without food water or bathing. “But we will not be bogged down, come what may,” says Gunjan Wadhwa and Namita Nainani, both volunteers with the organisation. So what, if we do not match up to the physical strength of men, we women have an unflinching will to pull our self through,” the duo avers.

What these women have accomplished is no mean feat. What the womenfolk of Uttarakhand have achieved is no ordinary experience. Can this resurgence of women-power bring about a new awakening in the ravaged state? Only time will tell. After all, every cloud, no matter however dark has a silver lining too!

Story credit : Art of Living Bureau of Communication


If you'd like to volunteer,

Contact Swami Divyanand: 09627057932; Shweta Golani: 09837246264

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