The mission is to empower the wives of our country’s martyrs by helping them discover their true potential and giving them the necessary skills and support to achieve their goals
It was on July, 30, 2007, that the tragedy struck. Ten persons, including a senior army officer and a trooper, were killed during a three-day gun battle on the Line of Control near the border town of Uri in north Kashmir.
In an act of bravery, Col Vasanth Venugopal, the Commanding Officer of 9 Maratha Light Infantry and Lance Naik Bachan Shashikant Ganpat, achieved martyrdom while fighting with hardcore Afghan terrorists, who had infiltrated across the LOC, in the morning of July 30, 2007 in Uri Sector.
A large number of terrorists in PoK, were waiting on the Pakistan side of the LOC. Col Vasanth’s battalion was deployed in an inhospitable terrain. A fierce exchange of fire started during which Col Vasanth led his troops from the front, slowly moving forward towards the terrorists.
“The engagement was exhausting and went through the entire day and night of July 30. Outflanking the terrorist position, Col Vasanth started engaging the terrorist position with accurate fire. Col Vasanth personally brought down one terrorist but was himself injured when another group of terrorists opened fire on him. Regardless of his injuries and fire that was coming from two sides on his position, Col Vasanth kept engaging the terrorists and gradually moved forward.
“On closing in with the group, which had two terrorists left, he charged the position bringing down one terrorist. Meanwhile, the second terrorist fired a burst, which brought down Col Vasanth. In the last action before losing consciousness, Col Vasanth fired at the terrorist and killed him.” explains a defence ministry spokesman.
It was a major infiltration attempt by heavily-armed militants to enter Kashmir and army soldiers had foiled it by not only killing all the intruders but also by the supreme sacrifice of Col Vasanth and Lance Naik Bachan Shashikant Ganpat.
Col Vasanth was cremated with full military honours in Bangalore on August 1 the same year.
In an interview, soon after, Col Vasanth’s wife Subhashini said, “At the outset let me tell you that I really am not the first in this list; there have been many more brave women who have faced these kinds of situations before in our country - and I just joined the line today (August 1). And I am very proud of my husband for this supreme sacrifice that he has made for the country.”
It was an extraordinary act of quiet courage that she faced cameras just hours after bidding a final, fond farewell to her heroic husband.
In that hour of grief, a few thoughts crossed her mind as well. “Is it enough to honour the few military men whose deaths come to public notice? Is it sufficient to express sympathy for their families? What about the many more whose demise is known only to their families, friends and colleagues? What about the even more numerous wounded soldiers, many of them permanently disabled? What about the social and economic situation of the families of deceased or injured soldiers?”
That thought must have inspired her to launch the Vasantharatna foundation to help the war widows and help them to rebuild their lives.
Subhashini Vasanth, on 13th January 2016, was honoured with Neerja Bhanot Award. She was presented the award for her endeavour to help people in distress and for empowering widows of martyrs and their families across the country.
Col Vasanth was posthumously awarded the Ashok Chakra in 2008 for his selfless, supreme sacrifice.
However, Vasanth’s home state Karnataka went by an old Government of Mysore order, which offered a minimum of a one-time cash award, an annual amount and/or land to live on.
The State government sent Subhashini a cheque of Rs 20,000, sanctioned an annual amount of Rs 800, and Rs 1 lakh to buy land in Bangalore. She returned it pointing out that the state was still using 1971 wartime compensation figures.
The state government, however, informed her that the next Ashoka Chakra awardee will be given Rs 5 lakh, but this would not apply retrospectively in her case!
She started the Vasantharatna Foundation in memory of her husband. The foundation provides educational scholarships, conducted empowerment programmes and outbound learning programmes for women and children.
Subhashini helps the wives of martyred jawans to face life with confidence and supports the education of their children
She has now become a one-woman AWWA --Army Wives Welfare Association—for more nearly 50 widows of jawans from across rural Karnataka.
Within three months of his tragic demise, she also wrote and performed in the play ‘The Silent Front’ about soldiers who die unsung in combat, and staged it in Delhi and Bangalore.
She collected donations and started the foundation - the Vasantharatna Foundation for Arts – in memory of her late husband, Karnataka’s only Ashoka Chakra awardee.
She requested the Sainik Department in Karnataka for a list of families who had lost jawans in the state. The list included 30 families in Belgaum, Bagalkot, Coorg and other parts of rural Karnataka.
“When VRFA was started, we identified 30 Veer Nari’s in Karnataka with young, school going children and have been working with them ever since. We have been adding families to this list as and when we come across them. Today, we have a total of 150 (wives and children) who have been a part of the VRFA journey over the last 10 years”, she says.
“I visited the martyr’s wives in their homes and I knew they needed utmost support and handholding,” she says.
She realised that legal and financial help was crucial for the wives of jawans. With Pegasus Institute, she organised a three-day camp for these women on Bangalore’s outskirts where financial, legal, psychological advice was turned into active modules.
When Captain Ravi of Pegasus asked her what her goal was for them, she said, “Self-Esteem.” Basically, women are still tuned to clean, cook and sew and look after your husband’s home, this is taught to be both your worldview and your role definition, especially in the army.
“But there are immediate realities one needs to put a focus and learn to move on. The transition needs to be supported. I felt there was a vacuum there.”
Some of these women were hesitant to travel alone and come to Bengaluru as Subhashini had put a condition:“You will have to travel un-chaperoned by your family and bring your kids.”
Left with no choice, they finally came, and were received at the railway station.
The camp was complete with a counsellor, financial and legal advice, Bonfire, singing and dancing, English communication for the children, Games and bonding.
The women who had never been allowed to have fun, slowly opened up and shared their joys and sorrows.
For them, it was the first time someone had thought of them as individuals, as human beings, since 1999. The next camp happened in Belgaum.
There are many beneficiaries---one of them is a 7th standard pass in Jamkhandi, near Belgaum, whose husband was martyred, finished her education and is now a principal in a local government school.
“Did you know a martyred jawan’s child gets Rs 800 annually for shoes and uniform? And often the widows and their children don’t know how to get their reimbursements,” she told the media.
An ongoing project is to send gifts for their as well as their kids’ birthdays.
Subhashini’s four-member team at the foundation works out of a small room in her parents’ home, where she lives with her two daughters.
A trained Bharatanatyam dancer, she continues to take dance classes. A couple of months ago, she gave a scintillating dance performance in Bengaluru with none other than her guru and eminent dancer herself, Vyjayanthimala Bali doing the nattuvangam in front of a packed audience.
Subhashini is of the firm belief that a Veer Nari is so much more than just a martyr’s wife. “She does not deserve our pity. She deserves to live a full life, discover her true potential and make the lives of her loved ones brighter. She need not be a burden to anyone. She is not only capable of standing on her own feet but can also help others do the same. This has been our endeavour at VRFA”.
While the Army and the Government provide basic monetary support to the martyr family, many women have not been able to avail this help for numerous reasons ranging from inability to fill up forms to not even being aware that help exists. Moreover, the monetary support is in the form of reimbursement i.e. she has to pay the money first, and then claim reimbursement from the Government, which in itself is a lengthy process.
The foundation’s work is three-fold:
1. We work with the families of martyrs to enrich their lives and to empower them to build a better future for themselves.
2. We work towards changing social perceptions about wives of martyrs, so that they find their self-worth, and reach a stage where they can help others.
3. We attempt to bridge the gap between Government policies and the people in need of those policies, and enable them to claim their rights with dignity.
© 2016 Sulabh Swachh Bharat. All Right Reserved