Food and clothes were scarce during my childhood but I rather preferred to miss a meal than a day’s school, says Sunita Aralikar.
Sunita Aralikar, 56, was barely 16 days old when her illiterate father buried her alive a day after her mother died in a remote village near Latur, Maharashtra.
"I was lucky my maternal grandfather, Kundalikrao Mane, pulled me out of the tiny grave and gave me a new life in his home in Tupadi village in Nilanga taluka in Latur district," says Aralikar, who is today an author and a well-known social activist fighting social evils such as female infanticide that almost claimed her own life. She learnt of her father's attempt to kill her when she was nine.
"He did not want me then and even at 14, my father sent ‘goondas' (hoodlums) to kill me again but I was saved by a cowherd."
Her journey through life is an incredible one of not just struggling with social prejudices and poverty but also finding an inner strength to get an education and ensure later her own sons got a good education. Her sons Yogesh, an engineer, and Jamir, a surgeon, are now working in the US, she says proudly.
"Food and clothes were scarce during my childhood but I rather preferred to miss a meal than a day's school," Aralikar told Gulf News on the telephone from Latur.
Barely 16, she moved to Latur to train as a nurse at a hospital where she met her future husband Dilip Aralikar. "He gave me unflinching support," she says.
Although she writes for local publications, a few year ago, Sunita penned her autobiography Hirkanicha Birhad (Hirkani's House) written in Marathi. Hirkani was a simple, brave milk seller at the fort of Chhatrapati Shivaji and gained fame when she scaled down the steep mountain slope of Raigad to return to her child in the village below.
While her social work includes conducting 90 inter-caste marriages, she has also successfully contested in six local administrative elections and is presently the director of the Maharashtra Housing Finance Corporation.
Aralikar is among a dozen women who received the Women's Achievers' Award from the Young Environmentalists Programme Trust in Mumbai. Elsie Gabriel, Founder of the Trust, says: "We have recognised leading women who have made a positive difference in the community and stood out as enigmatic leaders."
Other women achievers are Vaishali Salavkar who has won the Chess championships six times and is blind and Gladys Staines, wife of Graham Staines who was killed by miscreants in Orissa some years ago.
Staines says: "Whatever I did was with God's help and also the huge encouragement of those around me caring for people with leprosy, those on the committee of the Leprosy Home and Hospital and the community [in Baripada, Orissa]."