Widowed At 23 And Shamed, Nirmal Chandel From Himachal Pradesh Fights For The Upliftment Of Widows

As old as the treatment towards widows has been in our country, most of it has been wiped away with refreshed mindsets in the society. However, there are still some people out there who treat widows in the society poorly. Nirmal Chandel lived such a harsh life back in the day in and around 1989 where it all started.

And by started, it meant that it was when she lost her 30-year-old husband to a fatal heart-attack. As awful as it must have been for her to Nirmal to deal with her sorrow. Instead of consolation and supportive words if nothing at all, she was shamed and accused of having had caused her husband to die. Immediately after, the poor treatment towards her which seemed like a punishment was imposed on her. She was made to live in a dimly lit room with not even a fan and made to spend the following year under such conditions.

It didn’t stop there, she was considered a burden and shown no mercy, not even by her own parents let alone her in-laws. She was not allowed to wear colorful clothes, eat with the rest of family, or attend any functions or gatherings. Perhaps, it had to get worse before it got better but Nirmal rose out and free from all these shackles confined on to her by the rest of the society and her family.

Nirmal truly is thankful for having been introduced to an NGO that works towards the welfare of women. And thus started her journey to better not only her life but make other countless lives be independent and free from living unkind and wary lives.

She joined the Social Upliftment through Rural Action also dubbed as SUTRA and NGO where she got accustomed and trained for a role of accountant and was eventually hired. Nirmal initially expected to be offered a mere clerical role since she was just a matriculate but amazingly enough, she got to be an accountant instead. She made a monthly salary of 350 rupees and fought for her own sake and take back her life in her own hands.

With Nirmal changing her own life and having a renewed outlook towards things, she continued to renew and change the lives of more than 16,000 women just like her. Should that mean widowed, unmarried, or divorced women, she helped them all. By 2005 she formed her very own organization, the ‘Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan’ and fight for women like herself.

Nirmal learnt a lot from her time at SUTRA, for someone who was criticized and pointed fingers at for so long, it wasn’t punishable anymore to make mistakes ever so often when she first started working at the NGO, she had room to learn and grow. 15 years passed and she was adept in her auditing, tallying, accounting and numbers skill and knowledge amongst other things.

Her success and freedom were still not a fine thing in the eyes of her parents, ashamed as they were before, they asked her to come back home and spare her an allowance of 500 rupees every month instead. But Nirmal knew better and refused without hesitation, she was well aware of how this would only bring about a cycle of dependency and her freedom would be controlled by her parents and that was no way to live her life, on the whims of other people who don’t necessarily want the best for her.

The most wonderful experience for Nirmal arrived when she was asked to attend a widows’ meet in Rajasthan. She saw numerous women who shared similar stories, similar lives, faced similar or varying atrocities from the society and others. The noticeable positive thing about them was that they were all united, independent, and together fighting their way to freedom endowed in colorful clothes and jewelry.

This was too a learning experience as she met women from different states and parts of the country who faced tough times and stood there that day, asking question that Nirmal never would have asked or thought of. Questions asking why it was okay for male widowers to live their lives comfortably and remarry when the same rights were not allowed for a female widow.

After this exhilarating experience, Nirmal held a small meet and greet for widows in the district of Mandi whilst collaborating with few other NGO’s and as a mark of a silent protest, a surprising number of 120 women met on the NGO’s grounds donning bindis and sindoors.

This was followed by monthly meetings and awareness workshops for women discussing various issues, ways to be self-fulfilled to earn a livelihood independently, start small businesses. She even created a WhatsApp group to post in any job vacancies and has since been able to get numerous women get jobs.

Ever since, in the year 2008, Nirmal along with 3,500 other women marched from Dhammi to the Chief minister’s house (former CM, Prem Kumar Dhumal) in Shimla proposing the plan for fulfilling a 25-point plan of demands. Enough blood, sweat and tears later, three of their demands for health insurance, ration cards and social security were agreed upon and implemented statewide.

With all the good, comes the bad as well and although their deserved independence may not be appreciated still by people still holding on to old traditions and practices, Nirmal stands tall and strong even at the age of 56 fighting for the rights of every woman in need of help.