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Widowed at 14, Padma Shri Basanti Devi says Kausani Ashram inspired her to life of social service

Pithoragarh, Jan 29 (PTI) Known to many as a crusader of environmental conservation, 64-year-old Basanti Devi had never thought that a visit to the Kausani Ashram after losing her husband at the age of 14 would inspire her to take up social work and later, make her a recipient of the prestigious Padma Shri.

Conferred with the award this year for her contribution to the ‘Save Kosi Movement’ and environmental protection, Devi is also looked upon as a champion of women empowerment.

Recalling her 40 years of work, she said that she had gone to the Mahila Kausani Ashram in Almora to meet a relative, and was inspired and impressed with the atmosphere there which was “free from the evil of untouchability and social discrimination”.

“I was born in Digra village of Kanalichina block of Pithoragarh district in 1958. When I was in Class 5, my marriage was solemnised with a boy who was a student of Class 11. But soon after marriage, my husband died and I became a widow,” Devi told PTI.

When she was being persuaded by her relatives to get married again, Devi said her father insisted that she should pursue her studies instead.

“A differently-abled boy of my relative used to study in those days at the Mahila Ashram Kausani, established by Sarala Behn. When I went there to see him, I was so impressed with the atmosphere, free from the evil of untouchability and social discrimination and full of dignity for women, that I decided to remain there with the consent of my father,” Devi said.

After joining the ashram, she was given the work of opening Bal Baris in the Danya area and she started several of these recreational centres for children in remote villages, that also looked into their nutrition “Meanwhile, I also completed my education till intermediate,” Devi said.

During this time, she was given the work to save water and the environment in Kosi river basin villages as level in water sourecs there was continuously depleting.

“When we started work in the Kosi area, the condition of women was the worst, they used to be involved in bringing firewood from jungle and work in fields,” Devi said.

“I went to the jungle where they used to cut trees for firewood. I requested them not to cut trees and shrubs as due to this cutting the perennial water sources of the area were depleting,” she said.

Devi and her team persuaded women not to cut trees and use only dry ones as fuel. They also fought with the forest department on cutting of big trees.

“When the village women agreed to take my advice, we organised them in the form of Mahila Sangthans in almost 50 villages from Kausani to Katli village in Someswar, ” she said.

According to Devi their women organisations not only worked toward saving the environment of Kosi region but also empowered women by the way of their increased participation in social works.

“Now women had started taking part in social works and gatherings convened for it,” she said. For 20 years Devi used to travel in 50 villages of the Kosi region with the aim of saving trees, environment, empowering women and eradicating liquor consumption from the lives of villagers.

“It started resulting in surplus water in once almost dry area of Kosi watershed region, now, after revival of some old springs, the villagers of Someswar area have started sowing to grow paddy crop,” Devi said.

“My work continues even today, I go to advise women organisations whenever they call me, but for the last two years, I have started living in Pithoragarh district, where my father has built a house for me,” Devi said.

Associated all her life with the Kausani Ashram, she has also been honoured with Nari Shakti award 2016, Devi award in 2016 and Femina women jury award in 2027 for her distinguished social work. PTI COR ALM ANB ANB

This report is auto-generated from PTI news service. ThePrint holds no responsibility for its content.

Source: The Print

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