Changing the Picture of Widows in India

The state of widows has been a challenging aspect in our nation.

Almost of the widowed population comprises of females as women often have a large age gap with their husband which increases their life expectancy as compared to their spouse. Further, it is indeed a matter of concern that we still have 1.94 lakh child widows despite the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006. This is because child marriage is still prevalent in rural India which occupies a large chunk of the overall population.

Widows in India go through a lot of scrutiny by the society that makes their single life unbearable to the core. Elimination of widows from property rights, no allowance for remarriage of widows, restricting widows from festivals and social gatherings are some stereotypes that hinder the widows from living a normal life. However, these age-old norms have been shunned over time and efforts are being made for the progress of widows.

Sati pratha was a tradition followed by the patriarchal Indians that a widowed woman has to be burnt along with the corpse of her husband. This practice was abolished during the British rule. Hindu Widows Remarriage Act in 1856 also formed a new way for the widows, allowing them to restart their marital lives.

The cities of Vrindavan and Varanasi – referred to as the “widow cities” of India – welcome thousands of widows every year who have no other place left to go. These cities are home to a large number of dingy, suffocated, guest houses and “ashrams” where impoverished and abandoned widows spend their remaining lives. These widows have been expelled from participating in auspicious occasions like normal people and live an isolated life. But in the past few years, widows broke the taboo of not participating in festivals by celebrating occasions like Durgapooja, Holi and spilling colours as a symbol of their freedom.

Then, there are some organizations that have made great advancements for the widow community. An NGO Sulabh International organizes Holi celebration for widows in Mathura. An organization named Loomba Foundation works extensively to change the condition of widows. This organization also found the International Widows Day on 23 June.

An organization – Parihaar Foundation has been working towards the social, economic and personal upliftment of widows in rural areas. This organization organizes health camps, meal initiatives, etc. This organization has also arranged marriages of six to seven widows.

There are small success stories of some widows who are garnering hope for others like them.

Vinita, a resident of a village in Karnataka is a widow who is a teacher in a school and she is also rearing a foster child by herself.  She also takes out time to specially counsel young girls and women to study and work and say ‘No’ to early marriage.

Then, Jyoti is another widow who fought the norms forced upon her. After her husband’s demise, her in-laws asked her to stay within the household and perform religious ceremonies. But she chose to disagree to these practices and rather found employment for herself. Now, Jyoti is employed at a local non-profit organisation that assists women in distress and is ably supporting herself and her son.

So, we are ostensibly developing a better world for the widows. However, widows are still looked down by many people. Remarriage and employment are still a far cry for many widows, especially in rural areas. At many places, widows are still expected to dress in dull colours and stay out of auspicious gatherings.

So, there is still a long way to modify the treatment of widows in our society.

We, as a developing nation, should take notice of the fact that our society must develop as a whole and not in fragments. We need to unfollow the patriarchal ancient norms that do no good to us and rather demean fellow humans. We need to create a world that grants equal and fair opportunity for all. And so, it is important to understand that a widow’s life is not over with the demise of her spouse, and she has all the right to lead a life as normal as any other citizen.

Picture courtesy: