Overcoming incredible odds, two women gear up to run the Mumbai Marathon

Two young women from a shelter put an abusive past behind them, as they gear up to run the 21-km to raise awareness about homelessness, and, the trauma of being abandoned

Two girls run four rounds of a 300-meter track, at a small park in Dadar at 4.30 a.m. Unlike other privileged runners in pricey spandex and dri-fit running gear, their attire is regular, not strictly sporting clothes. They also wear worn out shoes, when they train. Post an hour of training, they rush back to a small room in an old garment factory in Dadar they call home, to change. Then, it is off to their part time jobs at 7 am.

Laxmi (left) and Rupali (right) train for the half marathon. They need to raise  R 50,000 each to be able to participate in the event on January 17. PIC/URJA TRUST
Laxmi (left) and Rupali (right) train for the half marathon. They need to raise Rs 50,000 each to be able to participate in the event on January 17. Pic/Urja Trust

This has been Laxmi Biraha (21) and Rupali Sathe’s (20) drill for the past two months. They are driven with the aim to participate and finish the 21-km run (half-marathon) on January 17, (the day of the Mumbai marathon) to raise money for their ‘home’ the Urja Trust, a shelter home that has taken them in and is for abandoned, homeless women.

They need to raise Rs 50,000 each before December 23, only after which they will be able to run. The Mumbai Marathon rules say that, non-profit organizations need to raise Rs 1 lakh as funds to be able to participate. Rupali has raised Rs 44,500 to date, while Laxmi has raised Rs 25, 800, through individual donations.

Rupali, who lived in a village near Solapur, lost her mother at a young age. She had an alcoholic father. She is a physical and verbal abuse survivor. She bore the abuse for several years, before she decided to run away. Laxmi ran away from an abusive home in a remote village in Chattisgarh, and was rescued by Urja volunteers in Mumbai.

“Both of us are to run the half-marathon to raise awareness about the cause of homeless girls and dealing with the trauma of abandonment,” they say, from their 10x10 room, which they share along with 20 homeless women, in the Urja shelter.

“There are girls like us who need help and care, and by raising funds for our trust we hope they will reach out. It is not going to be easy, but we will try our best,” said Rupali, who came to Urja around two years back after a friend from Solapur, told her about the trust’s work.

A turning point for the girlstraining, Deepali Vandana, founder, Urja Trust said, was when one of the trust members offered to get a professional trainer to help Laxmi and Rupali prepare for the run. Their coach, F Ustad, trains them every Saturday and has also drawn up a low-cost diet plan for the two. While the shelter provides strictly rationed food for all residents, Rupali and Laxmi’s diet now includes jaggery, chickpeas and lots of fruits.

“It does put a strain on our budget, but if we manage to get them to run, it will all be worth it,” said Neha Sethi, advocacy and fund raising officer, Urja Trust. “An NRI biologist from Germany, and keen long distance runner, Madhuri Shivalkar met the girls through the Urja trust and gave them valuable tips for the run. Their worn out shoes caught her eye and she donated a pair of good quality running shoes,” she added.

Both girls juggle their immensely demanding running schedule and their part-time work in the kitchen of Fasoo’s and Ammi’s Biryani outlets, packaging food. They both earn R 6,000 per month as salary.

Even in the hurly-burly of work, the run is always on their mind. Rupali signs off, “I had heard about the Mumbai marathon when I first came to this city, two years ago, but I never thought that I would participate one day. I love the crowd, noise and energy of Mumbai; getting lost here is not scary,” end the runaways, who are now running , but in much happier climes and times.

Rupali Sathe, 20
Rupali Sathe, 20

After losing her mother, she took to selling flowers, but her alcoholic father’s abuse forced Rupali to leave Solapur, running away to Mumbai. She lived on railway station platforms, before she met a friend, through which she came to Urja.

Laxmi Biraha, 21
Laxmi Biraha, 21

Laxmi spent her childhood helping her mother in household chores. She ran away from home at 18, unable to cope with the abuse, which took the shape of physical assault by family members. She lived on Dadar station for a few days, before being rescued by Urja.

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