Village of Widows' determined to rebuild in India flood disaster

Village of Widows' determined to rebuild in India flood disaster
Indian widows, who lost their husbands during the massive floods

DEOLI - Cradling her newborn daughter at her home in a remote valley in the Indian Himalayas, Dhanita Devi tells of her determination to fight for her family's survival. Devi's husband was killed, along with thousands of others, when flash floods and landslides tore through the mountains of northern Uttarakhand state in June.

Devi, 22, was left alone, with no income and few savings, to provide for her three children and elderly mother-in-law. But Devi says she will do "whatever it takes" to stop her family sliding into desperation. "I have never worked before.

That was my husband's job, but if he is not here to take care of us, then I need to be the man of the family," Devi, whose husband owned a roadside eatery, told AFP. Entire villages were destroyed when surging rivers and landslides triggered by early monsoon rains crashed through the popular pilgrimage region, killing some 6,000 people during a peak tourist season.

Although focus centred at the time on the thousands of Hindu pilgrims caught in the disaster, many locals who worked in the temple tourism trade were also swept away or crushed under buildings and rocks.

Devi is among 34 women from one hamlet alone whose husbands and sons never returned from Kedarnath, the nearby temple town where they worked and the epicentre of the disaster. These women lost not only their loved ones but their sole source of income, while her home, a cluster of hamlets officially known as Deoli-Bhanigram, was sadly dubbed the "Village of Widows".

Devi's determination to push ahead has been helped by a local charity, which in December started teaching women sewing, candle-making, basic computer and other skills as well as literacy lessons to help them find a livelihood. "I will learn to sew, learn whatever it takes to run my house.

My children's future is in my hands now," Devi said. Charity founder Bindeshwar Pathak said he was moved to act after reading of the village's plight. Pathak's Sulabh International, which has a history of helping Indian widows, "adopted" the village in August, providing a 2,000 rupee ($32) monthly allowance for women and $16 for children.

Although the money was welcomed, it was a far cry from the between $650 and $2,400 monthly wages that their husbands earned running roadside eateries or as guides to the remote temples in and around Kedarnath.

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