Woman From Himachal Pradesh Helped 16000 women To Earn Their Livelihood

Nirmal Chandel
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Nirmal Chandel

Highlights

  • Nirmal Chandel, a widow at the age of 23, was ridiculed and insulted until she decided to take matters into her own hands and found Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan.
  • She was shunned because she was widowed, yet she went on to help 16000 other widowed women find work and freedom.

Nirmal Chandel, a widow at the age of 23, was ridiculed and insulted until she decided to take matters into her own hands and found Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan, which strives to improve the lives of widows, single women, and abandoned women through policy changes. She was shunned because she was widowed, yet she went on to help 16000 other widowed women find work and freedom.
Nirmal Chandel was welcomed with these obscenities at what was intended to be a happy event. It was her brother's wedding in 1994, and the groom trousseau she had purchased for him with her own money was known as manhoos. Her brother, on the other hand, defended her, wore the clothes, and even danced with Nirmal.
This occurrence was neither isolated nor the worst for this Mandi, Himachal Pradesh inhabitant. Nirmal's husband died of a heart attack in 1989, while he was 30 years old. She was forced to live in a dimly lit room without even a fan for a year. Widows are frequently ostracised, and Nirmal's case was no exception.
She was not allowed to wear bright colours, eat with the rest of the family, attend functions, or do anything that resembled a regular life after her husband died.
Nirmal decided to take matters into her own hands in order to break free from her captivity. She joined an NGO called Social Upliftment through Rural Action (SUTRA), where she was trained and worked as an accountant for Rs 350 per month.
She has impacted the lives of over 16,000 widowed, single, and divorced women as a result of her fight for her own rights and freedom. She founded the Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan (ENSS) in 2005 to lead the upheaval battle and effect policy changes.
Given that she was only a metric pass, Nirmal expected to gain a job at SUTRA as a secretarial assistant. She was surprised when she was offered the position of accountant.
She had never seen a cheque or a computer before, and she had no idea how many zeroes there were in lakhs. She was, nonetheless, eager to learn. So she learnt the ropes of auditing, tallying, accounting, and more over the next 15 years.
For the first time in her life, she was given permission to make mistakes. People were curious about me. Her contributions and work were quite important. Because they live in a tiny village, knowledge of my work quickly spread. She was shunned, and others used every opportunity to humiliate her.
But she didn't care what people thought because she was working and living at the SUTRA shelter. Several widows approached me around this time to discuss their concerns. Their circumstances were even worse than mine. The widows' children were left hungry. Nirmal said that she genuinely wanted to help them.
In the meantime, her parents, embarrassed by their daughter's newfound independence, ordered her to quit her job and provided her a Rs 500 monthly allowance.
Nirmal's life took another upward turn in 2005. In 2005, SUTRA invited her to a widows' convention in Rajasthan. The purpose of the rally was to march to the Chief Minister's residence and demand single women's rights.
Nirmal, who had never travelled outside of Himachal, found it to be an eye-opening experience.
She was startled to see other women from different places sporting bright outfits and jewellery while dressed in a beige sari. Nirmal saw the value of women being confident and unapologetic for the first time as she stood among women with similar stories.
Despite rumours that Nirmal was out there trafficking women, around 120 widows from several districts, including Lahaul and Spiti, showed up. They gathered at SUTRA's offices and wore bindis and sindoor as a quiet protest.
These ladies, who had not ventured outside since their husband's death, were now erasing years of patriarchy with a single gesture. In every way, it was momentous. Women's gatherings and awareness courses were held on a monthly basis after that.
Nirmal said that these sessions, they talked about a lot of things. For example, if a missing person's FIR is filed, missing husbands can be deemed deceased after seven years.
They educated the women how to file FIRs, create self-help groups to start small companies, and how to speak up in panchayat meetings, among other things. She started a WhatsApp group to post job openings, and she claims that every year since 2005, more than 150 women have been able to find work.
Next, in all of its rallies, workshops, and awareness sessions with the communities, the organisation replaced the term vidhwa (widow) with ekal mahila (single woman). The villages were compelled to adjust their attitudes toward widows as a result of this.
Nirmal and her team devised a 25-point plan that included demands for land, money, jobs, election seats, pensions, and other benefits.
In 2008, about 3,500 women marched on foot from Dhammi to Shimla's Chief Minister's residence to promote the concept. Rain, hailstorms, and hours of waiting outside his house were insufficient to break their resolve.
The financial aid for the education of children of destitute and unmarried mothers was enhanced from Rs 500 to Rs 6,000 under the Mother Teresa Asahaya Matri Sambal Yojana.
Sarita Devi, from the Kangra district, is one of the recipients. Due to a domestic issue, she divorced her spouse 15 years ago. She was shunned by her peers for not being a 'decent wife.' That's when ENSS stepped in to help her.
Such policy changes had a greater influence on Nirmal since local government departments and people had begun to pay attention to the ENSS. Some of the members even ran for and won panchayat elections.
However, successes, no matter how minor or significant, come at a price. Nirmal and her organisation continue to face opposition for challenging traditions.
Nirmal, on the other hand, believes that if she could stand up to her relatives at her brother's wedding when she was 30, nothing can keep her down at 56. Her next ambition is to offer single women land rights.
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