Bangalore: The world is in a constant flux of change yet certain belief hardly changes with time in India. One such stereotype is the stigma of being a Hindu widow. Even today many widows are living a life of social confinement and have been cut off from the normalcy of a day to day life.
The remarriage act of Hindu widows exists since 1856; even then the widows are living a life of solitude, or in the company of other widows, with little or no aid for proper health care. They are not accepted at social functions or religious rituals. Even their sight or shadow is considered bad omen. Even after the abolishment of sati (where the widow was made to burn alive on the husbandís funeral pyre) they canít stop feeling like a living dead.
Most of them are abandoned by their family as a burden or some have escaped from the abuse of mother in-laws or daughter-in-laws and found ashrams to settle in, like the one in Vrindavan, where they live among many widows who are seen as the social outcasts. They live a spiritually austere life, some making their living by chanting prayers at the temple and living in miserable conditions. Most of them are abused and called ill names by the villagers, and treated like a living plague, the poignant story of these women are overwhelming and hard to even imagine it is still practiced. These women consider it to be their fate or fruits of their deeds in life, which is a prominent part of the Hindu scripture, called Karma. They accept the life of misery and ill fate as paying their dues and in the hope of a better next life.
As the widows are subjugated by tradition to live a life of misery and inadequacy laid down over the centuries, most women follow it without any protest; they just follow the rest of the widows who have been doing it for years without any questions. They sincerely obey the ritual followed by a Hindu widow which has resulted in many widows ending up in ashrams with the same fate of living a pitiful life.
An estimated 40 million widows live in India. Most of them are destined to the bleak life in the ashrams. However certain families do practice remarriage of widows. There are some reform centers who educate widows making them independent to earn a living. Some are doomed to a fate of physical and psychological abuse by the husbandís family as per womenundersiegeproject.org.
Even the widows at the ashrams are poorly fed, their pension is stolen, and they are made to beg and are physically abused. The young widows posses the threat of being sexually exploited by members of the family, even at the ashram they are used to make extra money through prostitution. They have to work their own ways to protect themselves from such wretched incidents.
Considering that an educated woman can escape the trauma of being a widow in the society is a misconception. Even they are made to feel the pinch of their misfortune by neighbors and the conservatives. The idea of banishing a woman from appearing attractive because she has lost her husband is inhumane, stealing her from her right to continue to live a normal life is cruel, yet the practice continues in our country.
A woman when loses her husband is vulnerable, she has lost someone she imagined a life time with. But considering her responsible for the death by her in-laws is accusing her of crime. Giving her the support and motivation to get through the hard times of her life and filling her with dreams of an optimistic life seems reasonable, but is it too much to ask.
Itís time to change the persona of a Hindu widow and her expected fate in India. It can only be achieved by advocating it by the ones who are affected and the ones who understand that the treatment received by widows is unfair and unjust. Itís time to brush our manners and learn to show courtesy when it is required most.