CHUCHUYIMLANG (NAGALAND): Every wrinkle on octogenarian Lentina Ao Thakkar’s face tells a story. As Nagaland’s first woman to be trained in the Gandhian way of social work, she has been awarded the Padma Shri 68 years after she began training at the Kasturba Gandhi Ashram in Guwahati.
Born in Merankong village in Mokokchung district in the then Naga Hills district of Assam, she was the first girl in the village to reach Class VI.
“Since I wanted to study further, I went to stay at Mokokchung, some 30 km away, at the high school to complete my class VII and half of class VIII,” Lentina told The Sunday Standard. “But those days my elder brother was a teacher at the school in Chuchuyimlang and as there was no public transport, he had to carry rice and other essentials for me to Mokokchung.”
Daily living got so tough that Lentina had to quit school. Her brother then arranged for her to move to Guwahati to train as a social worker and midwife at the ashram in 1950.
“At the ashram, they were very kind to me. Since I was a simple girl who worked hard and was very obedient, I gained a lot,” she said. In five years, she was ready for a life of dedicated service.
The local people are elated that she was bestowed the award for lifelong service.
“Actually, she should have won it long back. The locals of Chuchuyimlang and surrounding villages are happy that the government has finally recognised her noble work,” said Sanen Pongen, chairman of the Chuchuyimlang village council.
After all, her noble work came after sacrificing even her way of life. “The first year was spent learning the ways of the ashram. This was followed by training on how to play with and teach children, and then midwifery,” said Lentina.
She returned to Chuchuyimlang in 1955 to start serving people, especially women. She has been working at the Nagaland Gandhi Ashram with husband Natwar Thakkar since then.
Currently, they are focusing on the post-graduate programme starting this June at the Mahatma Gandhi Academy for Human Development under the aegis of the ashram.
Despite age-related health problems, the spirit of this couple is undying. “I still have to work to start the college, so cannot die as yet,” Lentina said.
Lentina Ao Thakkar
Gandhian and social work