Life came to a standstill for Nirmal Chandel, when she was widowed at the age of only 23, two years after her marriage in the interior village of Sarkaghat in rural Himachal Pradesh. She was socially excluded as if she was responsible for the ‘misfortune’ of her husband’s death.
Nirmal dared to break the shackles of ‘taboo-ridden’ society and escaped to work independently with Social Uplift through Rural Action (SUTRA), in Jagjitnagar in Solan district as an accountant. Little did she know that it was her first step towards her journey for the empowerment of single women, mainly poor, jobless widows, divorcees and deserted women, who are often cursed, harassed and abandoned as part of social norms in the Himalayan region. Coming across several single women from villages, she felt that every widow or deserted woman shared the same story of distress. Most of them were denied access and rights to property once they lost their husband and they were made to struggle for survival alone with their children. They neither had the backing, nor money to fight even divorce cases.
In 2005, she led 3538 widows, divorcees and deserted women drawn from the state. The rural women, including 70-80 year old women, walked for 45 kilometres over three days with their baggage on their heads to the state headquarters in Shimla. The effort virtually shook the system and instilled confidence in single women to take up the fight for their dignity and rights, while preparing them for leadership roles in society. With Nirmal Ji’s march, for the first time, the political and institutional leadership in Himachal recognized the challenges of single women in accessing social protection schemes.
At Rebuild, we celebrate single women leaders like Nirmal Chandel who have fought against a patriarchal society and are a source of inspiration for women in the remote hilly regions of Himachal Pradesh. Rebuild India is proud to partner with Sutra.