Hemlata: Soul sister

Hemlata ‘Behen’ has nurtured in herself a deep dislike for caste and discriminative practices prevailing in interiors of Uttarakhand and is now committed to end them, says Narendra Sethi
Hemlata
Hemlata

UTTARAKHAND: The tender age of five, Hemlata learned the heartbreaking truth that her father had passed away when she was just six months old. Her mother, Jeevanti Devi, remarried soon after, thrusting Hemlata into the unforgiving embrace of India’s ancient tradition of taunting whispers.

Insidious voices echoed in her ears, casting doubt on her lineage and questioning her very existence. Yet, amidst the relentless storm of societal scorn, Hemlata remained unshaken, her spirit unwavering in the face of adversity.

The flickering flame of curiosity within her strengthened Hemlata with a renewed vigour rather than dimming her resolve. Today, she has carved a niche for herself in the social corridors of Uttarakhand under the name of ‘Hemlata Behen’. Hemlata has a deep hatred for the word ‘caste’, and in Uttarakhand, she needs no introduction.

Born in the village of Ransi in Ukhimath, a town steeped in mythological significance in the Rudraprayag district, Hemlata proudly bears the surname ‘Behen’. This name serves as a testament to her unwavering commitment to tirelessly champion humanitarian causes within society.

From her early days, Hemlata was nurtured amidst the shadows of familial and societal tribulations. Upon awakening to the harsh realities of the prevalent societal injustices and moral decay, she was deeply perturbed by the extent of filth that had pervaded the fabric of ethics and character in this society.

With these conflicting thoughts swirled in Hemlata’s mind, she found herself entangled in a marriage with a man who was already wedded and had three children.

After an extended period, Hemlata learned that her marriage was not a genuine union, but rather a transaction disguised as matrimony, orchestrated for a mere Rs 3000. This nefarious custom persists in various secluded regions of Uttarakhand to this day.

Upon arriving at her in-laws’ house after her marriage, Hemlata heard a woman’s scream echoing through the walls with such force that it sent shivers down her spine.

Initially frightened, Hemlata later discovered that the scream belonged to her husband’s first wife, who resided in the same household. According to Hemlata, who got married at the age of 15 in 1982 and entered her in-laws’ home, she spent six years of what she described as a “hellish existence” in her new family.

As the testing days of life passed continuously, Hemlata’s relationship with her in-laws broke in 1988 after her marriage in 1982. Somehow, she gathered the courage to reach Shri Bhubaneswari Mahila Ashram at Anjanisain in Tehri district. “At the ashram, I had the opportunity to interact and meet about 40 women like me. It felt as if the sorrows and wounds of my life so far had suddenly found a healing balm,” Hemlata shared with this newspaper.

“After dedicating 17 years of service to the Ashram across different locations in the state, I eventually relocated to Dehradun, where I collaborated with the Parvatiye Jankalyan Samiti,” Hemlata said.

After accumulating years of experience and receiving compensation from the Parvatiye Jan Kalyan Samiti, Hemlata left an enduring mark with her work ethic at the institute. Impressed by her dedication, the committee rewarded Hemlata with a 400-square-yard plot of land in Rishikesh as a token of appreciation.

In 2013, Hemlata founded the Action for Advancement of Society Organisation (AAS), which symbolizes a ray of hope. She enrolled six girls suffering from tuberculosis in the inaugural batch of the TB eradication initiative.

Despite severe adversity and struggle since childhood, when Hemlata, a woman of self-respect, built her house in Rishikesh, her acquaintances often offered her help due to the poor condition of the house and the décor was not perfect. Fed up with this, Hemlata ‘Behen’ finally got a nameplate made for the gate of the house, named “Purna Kutir” (an entire house).

Sharing her plans for the remaining part of her life, Hemlata said, “The pervasiveness of selfishly motivated relationships in society has disturbed me so much that I have not only pledged to donate my body but also to dedicate my private house to the Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust (HIHT) for the benefit of medical students after my demise.”

The cohort

After Hemlata Behen’s relationship with her in-laws broke in 1988, she somehow gathered the courage to reach Shri Bhubaneswari Mahila Ashram at Anjanisain in Tehri district. “At the ashram, I had the opportunity to interact and meet about 40 women like me. It felt as if the sorrows and wounds of my life so far had suddenly found a healing balm,” Hemlata shared. “After dedicating 17 years of service to the Ashram across different place in the state,

I relocated to Dehradun,” she says.

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