A shoulder to lean on
The Vasantha Ratna Foundation for Art supports the families of martyrs, both financially and socially. The Foundation recently conducted a camp for wives and children of martyred soldiers. A special one, indeed, discovers Sriranjitha Jeurkar
Summer camps for children are commonplace, but a camp for children and their mothers? Not so much. When those attending the camp are the wives and children of martyred army soldiers, then the camp becomes a rarity, one that is unique. This was a special camp organised by the Vasantha Ratna Foundation for Art, an organisation that is run to help support the families of martyrs -- both financially and socially – and to pay tribute to their sacrifice.
The organisation was founded by Subhashini Vasanth, shortly after her husband Colonel Vasanth Venugopal lost his life battling infiltrators in Kashmir in 2007. Putting her personal tragedy aside, she decided to do something to help other army widows, those who were less fortunate. “In that position, yes, I was sad,” she says. “But I had a strong support system, and I founded Vasantha Ratna so I could pass it on. It is a great sacrifice, but you have to detach the martyrdom from your personal loss, because martyrdom or otherwise, your immediate life changes forever,” she adds.
Subhashini was struck by the disparity between the ways she was treated at her home, and how the widows of other martyrs, who lived in rural areas, were being treated. “I had an amazing support system. In our society, widows become victims, and there is a stigma attached to widowhood. Either the society around her treats the widow like any other, or she is used by various people for publicity photo-ops. Neither of these helps her as an individual. Some of these women are not even allowed to come to the living room or take part in family functions,” she says.
What the camp involved
Thus, the idea to hold the camp and help these women realise that they are worthy, capable and have a shoulder to lean on. The decision to involve the mothers as well as the children was taken to help them bond better, and for the mothers to understand what the children can offer to them. The activities in the camp – which was facilitated by trainers from Pegasus, and organised in Nandi Hills – were structured to have individual sessions for the mothers and the children, and joint sessions as well.
For the mothers, the activities focused on understanding their dreams and aspirations, understanding finances, and most importantly, help them understand that the tragedy was not everything. “We wanted to minimise the whole ghost of being a widow, tell them that it does not need to be denied, but also that it does not have to consume their whole selves. They say they have lost everything and that all they want is for the children to do well. We wanted to give them a ray of hope to live their lives,” says Subhashini.
The children participated in activities to help self-development, potential building and leadership traits. The joint activities provided the mothers and children a chance to bond and understand that they could lean on each other. The children cooked a meal for their mothers, and also guided them through a trust walk. “The mothers were touched that their children were so concerned.
This is about breaking patterns; the mother always believes that she is a giver and the child is a taker. These activities helped their kids to express what they felt for their mothers, something they don’t get too many opportunities for in daily life, and particularly in single-parent families,” she adds.
The participants emerged from the workshop with greater confidence and self-esteem.
For the women, it was the first time in years that they could let their hair down, laugh and have a good time without painful reminders of their losses. They were able to bond with the other participants, and made plans to keep in touch with each other to form local support groups.
Vasantha Ratna was founded to help the families of martyrs, and has been involved in helping the children of martyrs with scholarships. The organisation has also held several contests to create awareness among the youth. However, it was this programme that struck a chord with Subhashini, and given her greater inspiration to keep up the work.
“Over the long-term, we want to identify families that need our help and support the children’s education. We want to create networks in districts and towns, so that the widows get social support, when their immediate set-up makes them feel ostracised and isolated. Many of the participants told me that no one had asked them what they want to do, and these are women as young as 29. We want to support these women and reassure them that they can live their own lives,” she explains.
For Subhashini, being a martyr’s wife is a matter of pride, though one that is deeply personal. “There is pride, of course,” she explains. “I cherish this pride, but I don’t want to gain publicity from it. I am aware that Vasanth was not the first martyr, and there are several other women who have faced this. I don’t want to be a brand ambassador. I want to be a facilitator, and help other women who are going through the same thing I did.”
* The Vasantha Ratna Foundation for Art aims to empower martyrs’ wives to sustain a dignified livelihood and educate their children.
* The organisation holds annual events to pay tribute to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Some of the programmes organised by the Foundation include:
* Salute to Heroes: A tribute to soldiers through music and dance
* Reflections: School competitions to engage with the youth and understand what patriotism means to them
* Providing scholarships to children of martyrs
* Creating a support system for families of martyred soldiers.
Those who wish to volunteer or contribute to support the cause can contact Subhashini Vasanth at email@example.com