Widowhood In India: A Socially Imposed Death

Posted on April 8, 2012 in Society

By Priyata Khushbu:

It is inevitable to overlook their presence on the streets of Vrindavan. They can be spotted in white saris, shaven heads and eyes filled with anguish and pain. Even though they have not committed any crime or sin to deserve such a miserable life, it would be blasphemous for them to complain about their deplorable conditions. They are compelled to wear the garb of piety and draw solace from religion and worship of God.

The veracity of religion is yet to be established but the use of this oppressive tool by the religious authorities can be witnessed through ages. The plight of the widows of Vrindavan is not unnoticed and still continues in this age of science and technology. In this day and age where there is no place for superstitious beliefs, widows are ostracized as ‘ill omens’ who deserve an isolated life because they have brought death to their husbands. They are therefore punished for something over which they do not command and control as matters of life and death are controlled by God.

The widows are coerced to live a life devoid of any happiness, comfort and companionship. The option of remarriage is eliminated and ceases to exist for them. They have to spend their entire life singing bhajans and eating insipid food as spices are supposed to arouse sexual desire. It is a horrifying truth to know that girls as young as 5 years of age who became widows at such an early age and are now 70 years of age continue to live this life of drudgery and hell.

According to a report by the National Commission for Women, 80% of these widows are illiterate. They are unaware of the widow pension plans by the government. Their illiteracy and oppressed social state is further used by the religious authorities for subjecting them to sexual abuse and prostitution.

The prohibition of widow remarriage and the act of sati have political motives. The wife of the deceased inherits the property of her husband. If she remarries then the property will be transferred to her new husband. The purpose of these two acts is therefore to prevent the transfer of property of the deceased to someone else. Sati has perpetrated itself in the form of institutes for widows at Vrindavan. Instead of instant death, they now burn in perpetual misery and agony.

There are many serious and mind boggling questions that need to be addressed. Why rules are different for a widower and does God punish those who abuse their power? We always try to escape from our responsibility as members of this society by calling it government’s responsibility. It is high time to realise our responsibility as stakeholders of this society and take a step in the right direction to bring such people out of darkness.