There were many women who lost families in India this year. 2021 was a savage, ravaging force that upended entire lives and happy homes, leaving grief in its wake. The brutal COVID-19 second wave was, doubtless, the primary accused in the tragedies that consumed India for much of the year. But there were other aches too – untimely cardiac arrests, bitter memories of past deaths and an unprecedented chopper crash.
The women left behind – wives, daughters, friends – emerged as the front faces of the pain these disasters discharged on the country. It was a spectacle to behold the command these bravehearts retained even in the face of the worst setbacks possible to them. They did not buckle, they did not fall. Yes, there were tears but that old graceful composure soon returned.
While counteraction to grief can never be a measure of strength, it makes a strong case for human resoluteness that helps us cope. In honour of those who departed, these women stood tall and continued living.
One of the first exhibits this year came in May, with Pulwama martyr Major Vibhuti Shankar Dhoundiyal’s wife Nitika Kaul joining the army as lieutenant to take on the journey her husband had begun. She had been married to Dhoundiyal only nine months when a terror attack in 2019 claimed his life. Soon after his death, she cleared her army exams and began training to become a uniformed officer, determined to serve the nation as her husband had died doing.
The commonly held perception that army wives are cut from a different cloth has proven to be true several times over. Naturally, they would feel grief when tragedy strikes but they have always risen stronger from the ashes. They are a lesson in pure strength, taking charge of honouring their husbands’ ultimate sacrifice.
Geetika Lidder, the wife of Brigadier LS Lidder, was one such icon in 2021. After her husband died in the fatal Coonoor chopper crash that also killed India’s Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, Lidder came to the cameras not long after bidding her beloved adieu for the final time.
“I am a soldier’s wife,” she said with dignity that inspired all kinds of awe. “We must give him a good farewell, a smiling send-off.” Her 17-year-old daughter too mourned the loss of her “hero,” her “best friend” but in a show of resolute maturity surprising for her age, added, “Maybe it was destined and better things will come our way.”
One can’t help but do a double-take at this brand of courage. What daring does it take for such tenacity to exist? How is it possible to be so empowered in tragedy? Perhaps this kind of grit is rare for a reason.
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General Rawat’s daughters, Kritika and Tarini, too came through as gamechanging icons. As surviving daughters of General Rawat and his wife Madhulika who also perished in the accident, the two women lit their parents’ pyres and performed their last rites, responsibilities that are traditionally reserved for the sons of the family.
Only months prior, actor Mandira Bedi had stood apart as a similar example following the fatal cardiac arrest of her husband Raj Kaushal, whose last rites she participated in. For this audacious venture which ideally shouldn’t be an audacious venture in the first place, Bedi had to weather an ugly storm of criticism and abuse online that attacked her saying she “polluted” her husband’s release from the world.
Such harsh and arbitrary judgment was not mirrored when General Rawat’s daughters partook in the somber rituals of their parents’ parting. This solemnity on the part of trolls could be attributed to the high reverence the country finds easy and natural to hold for the armed forces, which doesn’t extend to the arts.
Perhaps this ruthless year could be the turning moment for our society to absorb and replicate sensitivity to all. A million stories of grieving, overcoming and moving on flooded our nation in 2021 – some were reported, most buried under the rubble went unreported. Each is as significant as the last. Let us step into 2022 with a silent vow of redeeming that misery in a newer, safer, more empowered world.
Views expressed are the author’s own.