Over 4000 Rural Women Light Candles to Mark Tenth Anniversary of Latur Earthquake
Women demand greater roles for communities in development



Women remembers - Candlelighting, Sept 30, 2003

            
Women's gathering, Latur, September 30, 2003
Latur: On September 30, 1993, an earthquake measuring 6.8 on the Richter scale hit Latur and Osmanabad districts killing over 7900 persons and 15,000 livestock.

On this day of September 30th 2003 about 4588 women, from nearly 800 villages of the Marathwada region and the states of Gujarat and Karnataka came together for an emotional ceremony marking the tenth anniversary of the earthquake that struck on September 30, 1993.

Women joined hands in lighting candles in remembrance, and raised a series of demands for the future. "We need a separate women's development fund as we are keen that our girls have a better future," stated Kantabai Patil from Ambulga. Other demands included larger roles for communities in disaster preparedness programmes and long term development activities, cutting down alcohol abuse and promoting better health care, water and sanitation facilities and education.

"Life should go on, whatever nature decides to play with us. I got the strength to get on with my life because of the association I had with my fellow village women" said Sunita Madole from Ambulga, a village of earthquake-hit Latur.

The event was inaugurated on September 29th in Latur with an exhibition by Sakhi Federations of village women's groups, the government health department and disaster management authorities, among others. It was preceded by a press conference held in Mumbai by women from Marathwada and areas of Gujarat hit by the 2001 earthquake.


"When we visited the Zilla Parishad (district local government) office for the first time, we did not have the confidence to talk to the officials.We could not even greet them properly, and they did not acknowledge us," recalls Kantabai Patil of Ambulga village in Latur, Maharashtra state. But she and her fellow village women were gritty enough to revisit offices and get what was due for them from the government after the 1993 earthquake.

"Our Mahila Mandals (womens' collectives) continue to play a key role in consulting and making decisions on behalf of villagers," she said in a media conference in Mumbai today.

"Since the women took the initiative to engage themselves, the government started understanding the problems better. This engagement and experience helped us gain confidence," said Rukmini Koli, the former sarpanch (village head) of Rajuri in Osmanabad district. Her involvement in post-earthquake reconstruction began as a Samvad Sahayak (Communication Assistant), a post created by the government and facilitated by the community participation consultant Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP).

The disaster changed the face of the region and the lives of people here. Mr. Dilip Deshmukh, the guardian minister for Latur district, launched "Swalikhith" (women's own stories) and "Women Builders", (a book on community-based rehabilitation in earthquake-hit areas), saying that it was encouraging to see that women are taking a lead role in development activities. "Men are yet to come out of their agony. Perhaps they may take lessons from women," added the minister.

"Ten years has been a long and difficult time for the people, especially the women in Maharashtra. What we are seeing now is their continued commitment and determination to fight back and get on with their lives, whatever may be the tough ground realities," said Prema Gopalan, Director of SSP, a development organisation that facilitated the event.
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