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Inspiration

#Inspiration: Basanti Behan Is A Powerful Woman Who Has Been Working To Stop Child Marriages And Has Single-Handedly Kept A River Flowing. We Need More People Like Her

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Child marriage is a heinous act that’s still very rampant in our country. It’s 2020 and we can’t seem to do away with such atrocities. Why, you ask? It could be because half of the population doesn’t really believe that child marriages exist because it doesn’t look like that from their ivory towers and that it is still a concern in remote parts of India. And this is just one social issue. There are plenty other social concerns, especially in rural areas, which are not paid heed to, for whatever reasons. But there are some unsung heroes who are selflessly working day and night for social causes like these and one of them is Basanti Behen.

A native of Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand, Basanti, affectionately called Basanti Behan (sister), was also married off at the age of 12. She studied till class 4 before marriage but with the kind of education she received, she could barely be called literate. After the untimely death of her husband, Basanti, now a child widow, moved back in with her parents. After some relatives convinced, she was sent to a Gandhian Ashram, where she completed her intermediate and continued to study further.

I am from Uttarakhand and I remember hearing about Basanti Behan for the first time when I was in college and my professor casually mentioned her. I read up about her to know more and was so inspired. She was working for women welfare and environment at the time for which she even received several honours and awards like the Nari Shakti Samman by the President. Here was the woman who was barely literate and had dedicated her whole life for the betterment of women and environment.

Also Read: Ace Designer Anita Dongre Is On A Mission To Empower Rural Women Artisans And It Is Inspiring!

Her Journey To Save Women

She came to Lakshmi Ashram in Kausani in 1980 and since then, she has dedicated her life for the welfare of women and environment. She started off as a teacher. Her ashram opened some 25-30 pre-schools for the financially challenged section of the district, also known as balwadis and she used to teach there. Here, girls of 15 years of age used to come to drop their kids since child marriages and early pregnancies were still prevalent, which really concerned her. She vowed to do whatever it takes to stop this malpractice and still continues to do so. She went on to knock on every door of the area to convince villagers against the child marriage. “Whenever I am able to convince the parents against marrying off their minor daughters, I feel a sense of achievement; as if I have saved a life,” says Basanti.

Apart from raising awareness about domestic violence, conserving the forest and singlehandedly reviving the dry Kosi river, she is also fighting for women rights and breaking gender disparity in the village panchayats. How cool is that?

These village councils are largely predominated by men and even if women are in power, their husbands’ take the charge in their place. Basanti Behan started a women empowerment campaign to give women a place in the panchayat and motivated them to stand in the elections for themselves. With this campaign, she counselled women, inspired to be more accurate, 150 women from 51 villages to participate in the panchayat. She managed to get 242 women representatives and strong women groups in 200 houses from Kausani to Lod valley.

Basanti Behan is known as the protector of women and hills for all the right reasons. She is now 53 years old and gave all of her life to the valley and its people. She works with another woman, Parvati Goswami who’s her friend and helps her in every mission. She said, “Basanti has been a determined woman. She does not rest until she is convinced about the outcome of a task she is set out to do. There are several instances of how she has changed lives for hill folks.”

Two years ago, her efforts came to fruition when the Uttarakhand High Court directed the state to enforce the provisions of the Prevention of Child Marriage Act, 2006 and to appoint ‘child marriage prohibition officers’ in every district of the state.

But she won’t stop here. When asked about her plan for the next 10 years, she said that she wants to work with the women and raise awareness so that these women can step forward themselves to work for their communities without any external motivation. She is truly a crusader of nature and women who continues to work towards bringing about a change in society.

It really amazes me how a simple woman from the rural Uttarakhand with minimum education turned from a child bride to an inspiring activist, teacher, social worker and mentor for the women in her district. She is making simple efforts and doing everything in her power to bring about a positive shift in the society. This is truly a story of immense inspiration.

Also Read: The Number Of Child Marriages Has Gone Up Significantly. Girls Are Being Married Off Due To Poverty And Because They’re Seen As Liabilities

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