International Widows Day: No redemption for widows in India

Vrindavan ashram offers beacon of hope

Society

June 23, 2022

/ By and / New Delhi

International Widows Day: No redemption for widows in India

Their numbers don’t seem to be decreasing. In fact, the number of widows visiting our place is rising says Singh (Photo; Maitri Ashram)

Though many evil practices like Sati, have been banned in India, there is little improvement in the fate of widows in the country. As the world marks International Widows Day, civil society groups working with widows say that most of widows in India face disdain from society and even desertion by their own children.

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“The stories that I heard, but never understood as a child have finally been deciphered today. Tales of old, widowed mothers left to fend for themselves after having been deprived of every single penny and asset by their own children is something I never thought I would witness for myself in real life. But being here has shown me just this,’’ Mahesh Singh, a caretaker in Maitri Ashram, tells Media India Group.

According to the BBC, about 40 million women in India are widows, of which several have been left deserted by their own family members. Many of these women, left to fend for themselves, head to Vrindavan, a small town near Mathura, about 120 km south of Delhi.

Vrindavan is home to dozens of ashrams, including charitable ones, that offer shelter to the widows. One such place is Maitri Ashram, an ashram for the elderly and widowed women, that is home to 91 widows. “We can’t afford to keep more than 91 women in the ashram since that is the maximum limit that we can afford to take care of,’’ says Singh.

“Their numbers don’t seem to be decreasing. In fact, the number of widows visiting our place is rising more and more,” Singh says.

He adds that once the ashram is fully occupied, all the other women who come for shelter are guided towards other, similar institutions.

Maitri India, the NGO organisation that runs the ashram, has been trying to create an awareness amongst people about the situation of these widowed women in India, since it was established in 2005. However, little seems to have changed on the ground.

“There was an old widowed lady who called her son and told him she wanted to meet him. The son, who was a lawyer and was attending a court, refused to do so. He told her he was busy running a case in the court and would send her money later. The mother told him that she didn’t need the money and pleaded him to visit her only once. The lawyer however still didn’t show up, even when we requested him to do so. Unfortunately, the mother died within the next 24 hours. Despite the death of his mother, the son did not come to the ashram. So, when he sent INR 5000 for the cremation of his mother, we refused to take the money. However, later the son asked us to send his mother’s death certificate, since the mother still owned some land and assets, and in order to claim them he needed to show proof of her death,” recounts Singh.

Singh adds that that though there is not much the ashram can do, it has tried its best in providing the widows with whatever they can.

They also try to encourage the women to change with times and have asked them to wear coloured clothes rather than the traditional white ones that women are accustomed to.

Singh goes on to say that earlier when the women were fending for themselves, the widows were forced to eat stale and leftover foods, but now the ashram serves them fresh and nutritious meals.

In many parts of India, it is still considered a taboo for widows to take part in any events or festivities. However, the ashram encourages the women to actively take part in festivities such as Holi and Diwali.

The ashram also has other facilities to keep the women engaged. It has a library with several books and also regularly organises activities such as yoga and chanting bhajans. Singh says that these help the women get the courage to tackle the mental issues they develop as widowhood is still seen in a very negative manner in India and women are often blamed for the death of their husbands.

He adds that to add to the activities and make women also financially independent, the ashram is planning to install a machine to manufacture incense sticks. “This will help these elderly ladies to work and earn for themselves,’’ Singh says.

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