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Are Vrindavan Widows Really Under The Safety Of Lord Krishna?

Vrindavan, the city of Lord Krishna, is believed to have been housing widows, who have been abused, tortured or worse thrown out on the streets by their children, since Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a 16th-century Bengali social reformer, brought them here to escape from the practice of Sati. The misery has lasted over centuries, but the Government took notice only recently in 2012 and ordered on the construction of ashrams known as Krishna

Source: Denselow Anthony “The Indian town with 6,000 widows” BBC News. 2013.

Kutir or Krishna’s house. Today, the widows living there have once arrived alone, by train, from villages hundreds of miles away, with bruises, tears empty stomach and a heart-wrenching story.

“They saw me as a burden,” Ms Maheshwari whispered to Kai Schultz, as she recalled her first day at a new shelter in Vrindavan. Locked in a room, she was barely fed and was even told she was “bad for society.” When she spoke on the phone with her siblings, her daughter-in-law kept a stick raised above her head as a threat. [1]

“I had to sleep on the road as even my family abandoned me after my husband’s death. I was married off to him when I was 11 years of age, and he was 40. My daughter died of malnutrition as I couldn’t give her food since nobody wanted to assist a widow. After her death, I decided to leave for Vrindavan.”- Manu Ghosh, an 85-year-old living in Vrindavan, recalled to AlJazeera. [2]

But are these women clad in white, actually living a life of content, chanting mantras to Lord Krishna four hours of chanting for a cupful of rice and two rupees? Cynthia Gorney writes, “The widows know they need to arrive very early, taking their place on rag mats, lifting their sari hems from the dirt, resting elbows on their knees as they wait. If they do not come on time, the tea could be gone. Or the puffed rice might be running out at the next charity’s spot, many alleys away. But what has come to the forefront as a shock is that these ashrams which are supposed to take care of the vulnerable and homeless, are in reality, centres of money-laundering through faked “donations”. [3]

Younger widows may be as young as ten years old, maybe sold off by the ashram managers, as concubines (sex-slaves) to local landowners or straight into brothels [4]. Not all the widows who reach Vrindavan, get an assured shelter. There is a significant shortage of ashrams, and most are found begging on the streets or singing bhajans at temples to survive. Others manage to get odd jobs at domestic households and earn a shabby little room. Many of them suffered and died out of malnutrition, while others succumbed to numerous ailments, with zero medical treatments access.

Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International, at one of his interviews to Your Story said, “Initially, when I visited the widows, in order to sustain themselves, they would sing bhajans in local ashrams and earn ₹8 per day, that too in the 21st century. After their death, the widows’ dead bodies are slain, filled in a rucksack and thrown into the Yamuna. There were no arrangements made for cremation also.” [5]

“I came to Vrindavan 4 years ago and have stayed in dilapidated huts ever since. To survive, I worked as domestic help and sometimes forced to times for food. Neither do I own my family’s contact details, nor do I want to be in touch with them after how they treated me when I needed them most.” said Lakshmi Upadhyaya.[6].

We often blame the Vedas to shunning the widows into the social death that face, irrespective of their age. But the irony lies in the fact that the Vedas nowhere mention that the widow is obligated to live a colourless life. Contrarily, it asks a widow to stop mourning over her dead husband and remarry and settle for another man.

Sulabh International is one among a few NGOs, reaching the greatest miles for bringing a change into these widows’ lives. Besides financial assistance and free health checkups, Dr Pathak has brought light and colour into their lives, quite literally, by organizing the Holi and Diwali festival.

Sources:
  1. Schultz Kai, “India’s Widows, Abused at Home, Have Sought Refuge in This Holy City for Centuries.” NY Times, Aug 27, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/27/world/asia/india-women-widows.html#:~:text=For%20many%20years%2C%20the%20widows,had%20drained%20from%20their%20lives.
  1. https://medium.com/@AJEnglish/story-in-pictures-424ed58c56a5
  2. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/02/global-images-of-widows-india-bosnia-uganda-discrimination-exile/
  3. Jarman Francis. Sati: From exotic custom to relativist controversy. Cultural Scan. Volume 2, No. 5, December 2002. http://www.uni-hildesheim.de/~haensch/culturescan/5Jarman.pdf
  4. https://yourstory.com/2017/06/widows-vrindavan
  5. https://www.maitriindia.org/in-their-words/widows-of-vrindavan/

 

 

 

 

 

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