Strong women are not born, they are made

This uplifting news comes to us from Kausani, India.

The annual March-April community festival in Kausani sees a lot of participants and activity. This is where BasantiSamant, 60 or Basantibehen as she is widely known as, takes stock of things. She is a speaker at the event and is not a random pick to lead the women of the community.

A few years ago, Basanti led a movement consisting of 200 groups of 15-20 women each in a bid to save the waters of the Kosi. In 2002 the flow of the Kosi had dwindled to 80 liters per second from 800 liters 10 years ago. Ever since the inception of the movement, Basanti and her tireless group of fellow women have worked for the conservation of the river.

In the year 2002, Basanti had inspired the women in the village to desist from cutting live wood and start planting more native broadleaf trees in a bid to save the environment. The women decided to use water more carefully and also to put out any forest fires and prevent them.

However, Basanti had to fight battles of her own before she could become a leader of women. She says her life is like the mountain-difficult and uphill. She was married at the age of 12 and within 3 years had lost her husband, a schoolteacher. Basanti soon packed her belongings and returned to her maternal home to help her mother cut grass and collect cow dung. Basanti’s father who worked with the police department tried to get her readmitted to school but there was strong opposition at home.

A few years hence, Basanti heard about the Lakshmi Ashram which was a training center for the young women of Kausani. She sent a letter to the ashram asking for admission and got admitted. She underwent a yearlong sewing program back in 1980. She extended her stay at the ashram by teaching at the baalwadis. She had an eye on education and to that end, she filled out forms. She managed to graduate high school at the age of 31 and is very proud of the fact.

Over the course of time, Basanti started working full time at the ashram and she still lives there. She would form balwadis and women’s self-help groups in order to teach handicrafts, sewing and other income-related skills. She longed to return to Kausani and finally did so in 2002.

The situation in Kausani was quite serious at that time. Unaware of the consequences of their act, villagers were cutting trees, and the Kosi was drying up. Basanti read an article that predicted that the Kosi would dry up within 10 years and this propelled her into action. Basanti exhorted women to unite and take action. Around 2003, the women formed a committee and also appointed a president. The cutting of trees gradually stopped in the village. The men were skeptical at first but later came around to support the women. Ever since then the local groups have not just been the forest watch guards but they have also addressed many instances of abuse and alcoholism with intervention and counseling.

BasantiSamant was awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2016 and she received the award from the then President, Pranab Mukherjee. She continues to fight in order to save the Kosi and says that her biggest contribution has been to ensure that the women are not silent.

Image source: Rural India Online

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