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A year after the catastrophe that hit the Kedarnath Valley, the affected locals are still in the grip of despair. The villagers are seething with frustration. They say Kedar tragedy has taken away their livelihood and with no support coming from Government, they are on the brink of starvation.

“We depend on Baba Kedar for our livelihood. During Char Dham Yatra, we work as purohit and younger people set up shops and lodges for the pilgrims. But now administration has denied permission to do business there,” Sumedh Rawal, who worked as one of the purohits in Bhaironath temple, said.

“What could we do now? We have no source of employment,” he said.

The Deoli-Benigram village, nestled on the top of the hill in Guptakashi, is the testimony of nature’s fury and Government apathy. With a population of over 200, the village had witnessed 57 deaths on one day and left behind 37 widows, giving the village a new name “Village of Widows”. Bijaya, 63, is the eldest of the widows while her daughter-in-law Kiran Purohit, 22, is the youngest.

It is almost a year since Bijaya Devi had not ventured out of her house after she lost five members of her family —three sons, husband and a nephew — on June 16.

“That night changed our life,” she said. “We were a happy family. My husband with the support of my sons was doing a roaring business. Just a year back, we were the richest family in this village and now we do not know from where our next meal will come,” she said.

Bijaya’s husband Pashupatti Prasad Purohit used to earn six months a year during Char Dham Yatra — when pilgrims visit Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri. The earning was good. Pashupati was a priest while his three sons looked after two lodges and a grocery shop in Kedarnath.

“We have lost everything. Our shop and lodges have been razed by big boulders which came down rumbling with gushing glacial water. Where used to be our lodge, now stands a big boulder,” she said.

When a glacial lake in Kedarnath Valley gave way following a cloudburst, the gushing water brought with them boulders that flattened whatever came on their way. It rained continuously for three days, starting June 15. The flooding washed away roads and nearly two dozen bridges and demolished 365 houses and partially damaged 275 others in Uttarakhand.

As agriculture is rain fed, the economy of the villages in and around Kedarnath depend on this temple. The elders worked in temple as assistant or jajmaan. They performed puja in nearby temples while the young people ferry pilgrims to the temple on mules and children on their backs as ‘pithu’.

“It was a lucrative business. The mule operators used to earn handsomely,” Shiv Lal, a resident of village Bhatwadi said.

The Government response to this tragedy is limited only to distributing compensation. The Government gave Rs 5 lakh each to the family of those killed or missing after tragedy. Those who shops or hotels were damaged in flash floods were given Rs 25,000 each.

“Is this money enough to run a family of six,” Dinesh Purohit of village Benigram said. “We had a shop in Kedarnath and the land belongs to my family. The Government cannot confiscate that land. That’s my land and will remain with us,” he said.

With the Government failing to mitigate the sufferings of the people organisations like Sulabh International has come forward and has adopted Deoli-Benigram.

“We do not want the village to get a tag of ‘Village of Widows’. We want it to become ‘Model Village’. Now, we will take care of their needs. We will impart vocational training to widows and ensure proper education to the kids,” said Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh.

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