“Bring back the spirit of patriotism in you,” exhorts Ms. Subashini Vasanth to the citizens of the country, especially the youth. “By that, I do not mean that you have to wear a uniform and be at the border with a gun in your hand to show your patriotism,” she elaborates. “Wherever you are, just do something nice, something good for your neighbor. Help your neighbor in some way without expecting anything in return. Do it selflessly. If we all do just this, it will do wonders for the nation, it will make it mighty and strong. That will be true patriotism.”
Bengaluru based Ms. Subhashini Vasanth is the Founder Trustee of Vasantharatna Foundation, started in the memory of her husband, Col. Vasanth Venugopal, who was awarded the Ashok Chakra (Posthumous) in 2008 for his selfless, supreme sacrifice while fighting terrorists in Jammu & Kashmir. This motivated her to start the Foundation to create a support system for the well-being of families of Jawan’s martyred in the service of the nation.
Dancing her way through life
Ms. Subhashini was born in Bengaluru and completed her education from Mount Carmel College where she did her Bachelors in Psychology, Literature and Journalism. “I had been dancing all along, right from the age of five,” says Ms. Subhashini, smiling at her remembrance, “and so I went for my Arangetram after completing my Bachelors. This is the debut on-stage solo performance by a disciple of Indian classical dance and I performed for 2 and half hours – first, one and half hours non-stop, then a break and then for another one hour.”
One year later, Ms. Subhashini got married to Vasanth Venugopal, who was a Captain in the infantry battalion of the Indian Army at that time. “He was posted to various places – Pathankot, Gandhinagar, Belgaum, Sikkim, Ahmedabad, Wellington, Kashmir. I travelled with him wherever I could – as some of these were non-family stations – but I continued giving dance performances in India and abroad as well as teaching Dance to students.” The couple had 2 charming daughters – Rukmini and Yeshodha.
Over the years, Ms. Subhashini built up an enviable reputation as an eminent Bharatnatyam exponent known for her intense abhinaya and immaculate footwork. She performed in several dance festivals, both in India and abroad and was acknowledged by critics and connoisseurs alike. She was recognized as a National level artiste by the Indian Council of Cultural Relations, Doordarshan and IRCEN (India International Rural Cultural Centre).
In July 2007, Vasanth was posted in Kashmir. “He had been promoted to the rank of Colonel by then and was commanding a battalion – 9 Maratha,” Ms. Subhashini recalls. “He was leading an operation which was focused on preventing heavily armed terrorists from crossing the Indian border at Uri and he was martyred in that.”
According to Army records, Col. Vasanth’s troops surrounded terrorists in a forest and blocked all their escape routes in the Uri sector. Despite being wounded, Col. Vasanth and his men engaged the terrorists in a fierce encounter. The daring officer led from the front and helped gun down the terrorists. Tragically, he was hit by a bullet and passed away in hospital. “He ensured that all eight infiltrators were wiped out even as he laid down his life for the nation. He was a true soldier who was dedicated to the country and his force,” General J. J. Singh, Chief of Army Staff at the time, said after Colonel Vasanth’s passing away.
“He is the first person from Karnataka to be awarded the Ashok Chakra,” states Ms. Subhashini softly, the pride evident in her voice.
Foundation to happiness
It was at this time that Ms. Subhashini met a lot of women whose husbands were martyred and what she saw made her to do something selflessly for them. “It was quite tragic,” she says. “These women were already struggling though grief and emotional trauma, yet the world would not empathize with them. The people around her would make her feel as if she was the ‘culprit’ … that she has brought it on herself… brought problems for herself and the family. She was ostracized socially and I felt that was very unfair.”
“I was of the firm opinion that what they needed was hand holding, someone to tell them it was okay, that this one incident was not the end of their life. Some of these women were very young – 20 years old – and I felt that it was just too early for them to ‘give up’ on life. I wanted to provide that little ‘push’ to them so that they could live their life with dignity. After all, they had a right to live well, follow their dreams and become achievers. Hence, I started the Vasantharatna Foundation,” she adds.
The vision of the Foundation is to be able to touch the lives of all martyr families across the nation. The objectives are to empower the women and educate them and their children, besides providing emotional, legal, and financial counselling. The Foundation also aims to be a bridge between the larger society, government agencies and the families of martyrs.
The Foundation provides education scholarships, conducts empowerment programs and outbound learning programs for both women and children, provides vocational training and employment opportunities to families, institutes Memorial Awards in honour of martyrs and as a goodwill gesture celebrates with ‘Gift a Birthday.’
“How ‘Gift a Birthday’ came about is very interesting,” relates Ms. Subhashini. “It was my birthday, a year after my brave husband passed on. To my surprise, the house was flooded with flowers from people – some known and some relatively unknown. It was exhilarating, lifted up my spirits tremendously. I wanted to do a similar thing for these women. What happens with them is that they become ‘mannequins’ for their husbands’ bravery. A lot of people call them for functions and say ‘Come take a garland for him.’ In all this, what about the women? Hence on their birthdays, I make sure that they get flowers or a gift specially in their name, for them.”
“What we are doing presently in Karnataka is the pilot project,” Ms. Subhashini explains. “We have tried a lot of things here – some have worked, some not. Just having an intention to be of help to the women is one thing… but actually implementing the ideas is a different ball game altogether. We have honed our plans, our schemes here and started having the ripple effect in other states with the help of some like-minded good souls. We hope to make a tremendous difference in the coming months and years,” she states firmly.
A multi-talented personality, Ms. Subhashini Vasanth has other interests too. In 2007, she conceptualised, wrote and played the lead role in her very own play “The Silent Front”- celebrating the life of an army wife. She is a Trustee of the Rashtriya Sainika Smaraka. She is also a jury member for the Namma Bengaluru Awards. Ms. Subhashini and Ms. Veena Prasad co-authored the biography of Col.Vasanth. The book ‘Forever Forty’ is a celebration of life and love.
She now divides her time performing, teaching, spending time with her two charming daughters, Rukmini and Yeshodha and reaching out to other families like herself.