“I can hear the roar of women’s silence”, Thomas Sankara once said. Women in every part and corner of the world are now making their mark and setting the bar high. In a patriarchal world they are fighting their way to rightful and much-deserved place on the high table challenging stereotypes. They are changing the world for the better and accomplishing herculean undertakings, where others would not dare to tread. INDIA NEWS brings to you inspirational stories of some of the extraordinary women amongst us displaying grit, kindness and leadership of the highest variant. NAARI is a column envisaged by INDIA NEWS Consulting News Editor Ananya Dhani paying tribute to women leaders amongst us who are changing our world without much salutation that they deserve. It is our humble initiative to thank them!
Who is Angel of Vrindavan?
The birth land of Lord Krishna, Vrindavan is famous for its mystical aura. It is the land where people come to seek Moksha or salvation. The land where women are treated with utmost respect and love.
In 1963, it gave birth to the “Angel of Vrindavan”, Dr. Laxmi Vijay Gautam — a professor by profession and a social worker at heart—a woman of many words and the Naari Shakti Puraskar awaredee from the former President of India Sri Pranab Mukherji in 2015. Dr. Gautam has tirelessly undertaken tasks which others could not even imagine: standing up against mistreatment of widows in India. As much as she despises the word “Vidhva or widow”, she very kindly shared here experiences and thoughts to spread awareness on this critical topic which still remains a taboo in the 21st century India.
During childhood we have invariably come across incidents and events that have left an indelible impression on our minds for the rest of our lives. The same happened with Dr. Gautam as a young girl. She came across a few women on the streets of Mathura in Uttar Pradesh who looked different from the others. No jewellery, shaven head and a baren look in white clothes, in complete contrast to other women around them in colorful attire and jewellery. When Dr. Gautam would enquire about them from her parents, they would simply brush it off by saying that she was too young to understand it. But it turned out to be the other way around as it had a huge impact on Dr. Gautam. Later in life, she searched for answers to why these women looked different? Why did they lack fire and life in their eyes? Upon getting no answers, Dr. Gautam’s father explained the plight of these women to her and told that they are widows or vidhvas after their husbands passed away. Hence they were then relegated to a simple and colorless life practicing celibacy and refrained themselves from the usual dressing up of a married woman. All of this information stuck with Dr. Gautam as she was unable to fathom the fact that a woman would be forced to life a life without identity or dignity in the absence of her husband, and to the world around them they were invisible. She made it her life’s mission to serve them and bring a change into their lifeless existence.
Committed to selfless service
It has now been more than a decade that Dr. Gautam has been serving and helping widows all across the nation. She has helped countless women reconnect with their families by counseling them and inspiring them to raise their voice against injustice. She has worked tirelessly to again reinforce the practice of Hindu widow remarriage which legalised in 1856 under Lord Canning, thanks to the social movement led by reformer Raja Ram Mohan Roy in Bengal. She has also conducted numerous surveys with the help of NALSAR into finding out the root causes of young widows in the remote regions of West Bengal. The survey revealed the grotesque reality of young girls aged between 12 and 15 married off to men in their late 50s, which naturally made them widows in their early 20s as their husbands would soon pass away. Saving them from from family humiliation and banishement, Dr. Laxmi Gautam has given them an honorable existence and place in her own house and providing all the necessary love and care. With little external support she managed to launch her mission and bring some respite to these women. She strongly remarks, “Naari shakti ka jo samman hai, aur vidhva bann kar jo uska apman hai usse hame khatam karna hoga” (We need to end the disrespect that women face as a widow so that they receive the respect that women deserve irrespective of their marital status).
In addition, Dr. Gautam has committed her life to not only improving the living conditions of these women, she has also ensured that the deceased also receive an honorable and respectful cremation. In this decade long journey of Dr. Gautam, she has performed hundreds of cremations, under the shadow of Covid-19 for those who had no one to perform those rites. She believes in making sure they receive the honor they deserve even after their death and prays that they get some peace in their after lives.
The torchbearer of remarkable women
On behalf of INDIA NEWS the author has conducted a video interview with Dr. Gautam, which can be accessed on India News TV, the link to which is given on our website at www.indianews.com.au. During the interview it transpired that I asked her a question which was also asked by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi Ji to her: How does she manage to accoplish all this by herself? She responded with her characteristic humility, “I have devoted my mind, body, and soul for the well being of these women and I believe that it is my moral responsibility towards humanity. Maybe, I must have had some connection to these women in my previous life. Everyone says I am different—after all, I was born in the land of Lord Krishna and perhaps his blessings are giving me the strength to keep going on.”
Dr. Gautam is our NAARI of substance in this edition, and she has made the world a little better for those who have been invisible for the society for centuries. We salute Dr. Laxmi Vijay Gautam for her grit, courage and selfless commitment for bringing dignity and justice to women and inspiring the Indian youth to nurture a progressive and humane India. Jai Hind.