Basanti Behan of Laxmi Ashram nestled in Kausani was honoured with Nari Shakti Samman by President Pranab Mukherjee for her tremendous work in preserving the environment and for social service. She was bestowed with the accolade on International Women’s Day and was offered one lakh rupees along with a letter of admiration.
Basanti Behan lent her efforts in reviving the dry Kosi river by forming women self-help groups to protect the forests that help in bringing rainfall. Not just this, Basanti has also worked for raising awareness regarding domestic violence and other atrocities against women. Her efforts have brought colours and the village bodies are now taking such matters seriously.
Basanti who originally hails from the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand is barely literate in the name of education. She was married at an age of twelve when girls are supposed to be at school. Shortly after her husband’s untimely death, she came to her parental house to continue her studies. After passing her intermediate exams she was inspired by Radha Behan, a Gandhian social worker and came to Kausani’s Lakshmi Ashram. Basanti Behan began her social work from Balbadi Programmes held in the Dhaula Devi block of Almora district. She then united the women of Kosi Valley and formed a voluntary women organisation.
When Basanti Behan noticed that the once life-giving Kosi river was now dying slowly, she started educating the village women to not to cut the trees as they are responsible for rain. In the summer of June 2003, Kosi river recorded its lowest summer flow mere 85 litres per second, much less than as compared to 790 litres per second in 1991. The District Magistrate declared that the water will only be used for drinking and not for irrigation. Police were deployed to stop the poor peasants from taking the water. Looking at the grave situation, she then formed more than 200 women groups called ‘Mahila Mangal Dal’ that took an oath to revive the water body by using dead wood, planting lakhs of broad-leaved Oak trees, stopping the hotels from pumping the river water and preventing forest fires. Her efforts brought colours when the river improved its flow through all 13 districts in Uttarakhand even at the areas which were once affected by drought.
In 2008, Basanti Behan started a women empowerment campaign to fight for women’s rights in the Panchayats. She came in support of the female representatives in male-dominated Village Councils and in order to boost their confidence, she was in constant touch with 150 women representatives of 51 villages last year. Currently, 242 women representatives are linked to Basanti Behan’s empowerment campaign. As a result, now women don’t participate in the elections because of their husband’s will, but because of their own consent. Owing to her efforts about 200 houses from Kausani to Lod valley have their strong women groups. This phenomenal lady is now willing to break gender disparities by supporting female education and gender equality.