Vrindavan, 2017.09.22 (VT): After 17 years of living in fear, a Sadhvi has filed a sexual abuse case against the management of a Vamshivat goshala. Now, with the help of Dr. Lakshmi Gautam, founder of the Kanak Dhara foundation, the Sadhvi has found the courage to file a case, despite the threats against her.
The Sadhvi came to Vrindavan from Madhya Pradesh in the year 2000 and supported herself by selling garlands and singing. The president of the goshala is accused of raping her and keeping her prisoner. She says that the abuse started soon after she started staying at the accused’s ashram, and although she was not physically trapped, she was too terrified to leave. It is only with Dr. Gautam’s help that she has found the courage to escape the cycle of abuse.
Dr. Laxmi Gautam has been nicknamed the “Angel of Vrindavan” for her tireless efforts in the service of Vrindavan’s women, children and particularly the widows, which has also won her awards and accolades from the highest eschelons of the government. DNA India’s Amrita Madhukalya wrote of her efforts in 2015:
For professor Dr. Laxmi Gautam, a normal day begins in the alleys beside the ghats of the Yamuna. She walks the alleys with a fortitude that few can muster, looking for any dead bodies of the widows of Vrindavan with a simple resolution: providing them a dignified end.
Dr Gautam is one of the bravehearts awarded the Nari Shakti Puraskar by President Pranab Mukherjee at the Rashtrapati Bhavan on International Women’s Day. The award, given out for the first time this year, along with the Stree Shakti Puraskar by the ministry of women and child development, commemorates exceptional contribution by women in various fields and carries a citation of Rs.1,00,000.
Once she finds a dead body, Dr Gautam springs into action. She arranges for a respectable cremation; logs are arranged and last rites are performed. There are days when she lifts dead bodies with her own hands to put them on the pyre. “I’m never scared of the dead; it is the living who frighten me. They can harm you, but not the dead,” she says.
She also looks after the living. 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.
Dr Gautam had served as the deputy mayor in 1995 where she instituted medical help and pension plans for the widows of Vrindavan. Named after her late mother-in-law, the NGO was formed five years ago. Without much financial help, Dr. Gautam looks after the widows on her own. At the moment, three widows live with her in her house where she takes care of them and cooks for them.
“These women are abandoned, left to fend for themselves after their husbands are dead. Several die in penury, and young widows are forced into prostitution,” says Dr. Gautam. In all, Dr. Gautam has ensured that more than 500 widows have been bestowed with a decent cremation.
After the awards, Dr. Gautam met prime minister Modi, who asked her if there was any incident that moved her to tears. “I told him of a call I received on Holi. An 80-year-old woman has been thrown out of her house by her sons without a single piece of clothing. Along the way, all I could think of was how many people would have seen her,” says Dr Gautam. The recounting moved the gathering, and PM Modi, to tears.
But that’s just in a day’s work for Dr Gautam. “I’ve seen worse: dogs eating away abandoned corpses. I’ve washed worm-infested feet of the widows with my own hands before taking them to the hospital,” she says.
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