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Times of India
16 July 2010
By Pramod Panwar
Palanpur, India

Hetal ChauhanHetal Chauhan
At daybreak, this 45–year–old woman in Chhaniyan village in Vadgam taluka of Banaskantha gets ready for her morning walk. And, when she leaves, she has in tow a rather strange company. Held in her hands are ropes that are pulling along a buffalo.

It is thanks to this bovine companion, though, that Hetal Chauhan has been able to keep her blood sugar levels in tab and beat diabetes. Why she needs the buffalo to keep her company is an amusing story, and yet, inspiring as Hetal took on the folds of a society that still harbours regressive ideas about modernity.

When Hetal, mother of three grown–up kids, consulted physician Dr Surendra Gupta in Palanpur a few years ago, he diagnosed her with diabetes. “Medicines do play a role in diabetes control. But, no medicine can equal a brisk 30–minute daily morning walk,” Gupta had advised her. Hetal complied, with full support of her husband Devaji.

The hindrance came from village elders. What began as whispers behind her back soon became an unsaid decree: “It is improper for a housewife to roam outside in the morning, ignoring her daily chores,” they said. Some even blamed her education up to class X for her behaviour. Soon, the fear of ostracising made Hetal toe the line of the villagers. She stopped walking and fell ill again.

A severely diabetic Hetal landed in hospital again. After her discharge, the travails of the couple did not end as they were advised again by villagers not to earn the wrath of elders by starting the morning walk.

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention. Hetal invented the perfect excuse. She bought a cow and a buffalo and began taking the animals out for grazing. Now, the villagers were happy to see her toil and praised her efforts as she was taking care of the cattle.

Not only did the cattle solve her problems, they earned her respect as well. “I came upon the idea a year ago and since then my problem has been resolved,” says Hetal, today a member of the panchayat and also an executive member of the dairy milk collection centre at her village. “I am happy that better sense has prevailed in my village and women are being given far more leeway than what it was a couple of years back,” she says, without any recrimination.

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