Kaushalya in the field

From Troubled Life to Role-Model

Kaushalya’s story is similar to Urmila’s but with a difference; her husband did not beat her. She had the support of a wonderful mother-in-law. However, her husband was drunk most of the time and did nothing to earn a living and support the big family. Kaushalya and her daughters worked as laborers in the agricultural fields of others and in their own little land and eked out a living to somehow have two meals a day.

Her eldest daughter, who is now married and well settled, recalls with tears in her eyes how, when she was sixteen years old, she wanted to go to school to study, but she had nothing suitable to wear. Her kameez (a long shirt that is worn over loose pants, the salwar) was torn, and she had already mended it several times. The kameez had ultimately torn beyond repair. She, however, had a woolen sweater which was fine. So she hid the torn part of the kameez uniform with the sweater and went to school all summer wearing the sweater! If anyone asked her whether she did not feel hot with the woolen sweater on, she would simply reply that she had a fever and felt cold! Thus, Kaushalya and her family lived in dire poverty when she joined CORD as a village health guide. Soon, like Urmila, she grew to be a team leader in the organization and a micro-entrepreneur at home. In 2000, she was elected as a member of the Zillah Parishad (District Council), which presided over the local self-governance of eleven Panchayats. She had hardly campaigned; however, she won the election by word of mouth of the villagers, who appreciated her sincere work.

While representing them at the district level, she successfully demanded response from local government to meet the needs of her constituency. Without hesitation, she trained many others, especially women, to become effective representatives of the people. For her comprehensive work on various issues, she too has been interviewed by news media several times, including the government’s All India Radio. In 2013, to CORD’s pride, Pujya Guruji Swami Tejomayananda felicitated Kaushalya as a ‘Karma Yogi’ in his inaugural address on ‘Karma Yog’ in New Delhi.

The essential advice that Kaushalya gives to new workers joining CORD is: “The key to work at the grassroots level is to build a lasting relationship with the villagers. Be a real friend in need who keeps his or her promises and delivers services on time.” Today, she helps CORD monitor, support, and build the Odisha and Punjab (Sidhbari satellite site) program, besides her many other responsibilities at Sidhbari. She was one of the main trainers who lived in Odisha for a few months to build and train the team of grassroots workers when CORD initiated the Program in Odisha.

Kaushalya being interviewed by All India Radio

With the Guru’s Blessings

If Urmila Devi treasures the letter that she received from Gurudev and her photograph with him, Kaushalya Devi recalls how he appeared in her dream one night when she was emotionally down, and how the problem just evaporated the next morning! In February 1992, when Gurudev was recuperating from his illness at the Sidhbari ashram, Kaushalya stood in front of him with folded hands, inviting him to her eldest daughter’s wedding in Sidhbari. Gurudev looked at her kindly and said to her that he would not be able to come. He said, “I cannot sit down with you all nor can I eat oily food as my heart condition does not allow it.” He then inquired with care if she needed money for the wedding. Kaushalya at once said: “No, Gurudev, I only want your blessings.” To this, Gurudev replied: “Shaadi ki chinta mat karo, sab thik ho jayega” (Do not worry about the wedding; all will be well).

Kaushalya remembers this with gratefulness when she recalls how everything at the wedding went smoothly. Her husband and his alcoholic friends, whom she had expected to create noise and confusion, behaved well during the wedding; the limited food supply, which she thought would run out and embarrass her, was not only enough for all those who poured into her house from afternoon until night, but was enough left over for the family to consume the next morning! “The people still praise the tasty food that was served!” says Kaushalya with devotion and gratitude.

Gurudev’s akshaypatra blessing Kaushalya’s daughter’s wedding dham