For professor Dr Laxmi Gautam, a normal day begins in the alleys besides the ghats of the Yamuna. She walks the alleys with the fortitude that few can muster, looking for any dead bodies of the widows of Vrindavan with a simple resolution: providing them a dignified end.
Even the police of Vrindavan call for Lakshmi Gautam when they see an old woman on the streets or an unclaimed female body. She works for dignity and rights of widows in the birthplace of Lord Krishna — Vrindavan. These women have no place to go back to and nobody to call their own. These are women who have either been abandoned by their families or have come to Vrindavan for spiritual reasons. Though thousands of people visit Vrindavan’s temples every day, nobody bothers about these women.
“I am the daughter of Vrindavan. Since childhood, I have seen these women on the road, just sitting and waiting for their death. They had no place to go to or food to eat. They begged for two morsels of food. They were treated differently just because they were widows. I always wondered what sins they committed that they had to end their lives like this? After death, nobody cared to conduct their last rites. I then took it upon myself to try to improve their condition,” says Laxmi.
A young girl being brought up in the family of ‘teerth purohit’ (priest) in the lanes of Vrindavan always had queries whenever she saw women wearing white sarees with their heads shaven. “As my father was a religious person, I was curious about these widows having shaven heads, wearing white sarees and deprived of worldly pleasures. At the age of 8, I got the answers to my questions from a 70-year-old widow,” she recalls. “I lost my husband when I was your age, is what the woman replied when I asked her this question,” says Gautam. “This moved me and I started thinking of doing something for the widows. This brought a change in me but I continued with my studies and won gold medal in history from Agra University. I completed PhD in History and Hindi before joining the Institute of Oriental Philosophy, Vrindavan, as associate professor,” she says.
Dr Gautam provides for countless abandoned widows; sometimes a warm meal, a blanket, medical needs, and also emotional care, through her NGO Kanak Dhara Foundation. She is taking overall care of around 35 widows in two small shelter homes. Without much financial help, Dr Gautam looks after the widows on her own.
Now Dr. Laxmi is looking for support to provide a safe and loving home to the many widows of Vrindavan. The current facilities are not adequate and Dr. Laxmi struggles with the expenses. With your help, she can continue her work and build a home with adequate facilities and large enough to house many more of these widows who are left to fend for themselves after their husbands are dead.