July 14, 2008

Plight of Widows in India

Nandan Jha has left a new comment on your post "Why?":

show details 10:53 AM (3 hours ago)


Celine - How much of text of this post, is based out of a first hand experience ? (family, close friend, next door neighbour and likewise)

I have seen many widows (in my family, friends etc) and I have not seen a single case as what is usually described by people, more notoriously by NGOs.

I do not doubt your intent and I have not see enough of world myself but in my personal opinion, if one has to write such clear statements, as in this post, then one should either share that they have a first hand experience (family, close friend, next door neighbour) or should mention thats its mostly based on what they have read on this subject.


The above is a comment to my post titled "Why?"

I'm writing my response to the above comment as a post by itself for the benefit of my readers so I can get to hear more views on this topic. This is written hurriedly during my lunch break at work. I'd like to invite comments and I hope, dear reader, you'll feel free to voice out your feelings on this issue.



Thank you for a very interesting comment. I'm glad you brought up this point. This will give me a chance to share more of my thoughts and some first hand experiences.

If your comment is an indication that I should change my style of blog-writing sticking to writing only on first hand experiences on events or putting a disclaimer that so and so is based on what I've read, then I am afraid that is not going to be so. You wrote about bad tents provided in Dhanaulti, while I wrote about social injustice. We both are free to write on whatever we like and of course, we agree or disagree on those. Please note that poetry and creative writing is one of my many hobbies.

You have not seen a single case you say. You should be glad about that. May I ask if you have lived outside the cosmopolitan city of Delhi?

To respond to your comment, yes, I have had first hand experience of bits and parts of what has been mentioned in my post. I may be presently out of India but I've lived in India for almost 22 years, including in the states of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat, both in villages and cities, and have seen enough. I have seen the best of India but I've also seen poverty, and enough social inequalities going on and I have also seen more than enough injustice meted out to helpless widows too.

And why just widows? And why only within India? I've seen divorced or separated women suffer as well when an attempt is made to make them feel as if they are a burden to the society and so are to be ridiculed at but I shall not dwell on that as I do not want to be side-tracked from the main issue being discussed here.

Among the widows, I have personally seen a Brahmin woman, a little elderly may be but from a well to do family, mind you. I have seen her with my own eyes as to how she used to be in public places without a sari blouse! I was shocked to learn from the the elders in my family on how their customs and traditions prohibited her from wearing a blouse because she was a widow. I have also seen how she had to constantly struggle to keep her simple cotton sari (I recall the dull color too) all the time tucked in place and entwined around her arms so she could cover her modesty. And oh, I feel terrible to share that her head used to be regularly shaved off too! Can you imagine her anguish?

I was young then, yet it shocked me. It was disgraceful. Tell me, is it not a matter of pity that we are a part of the society that still metes out such punishment to a hapless woman just because she is a widow? Was it her fault that her husband died? I still think of her and I particularly thought of her when I wrote the post under discussion.

Later as I grew up, I have come across examples in rural areas. By the way, I've spent my childhood weekends and holidays in villages. Over time, I have also seen this happen among the poor domestic helpers as I moved to bigger cities.

I've started writing recently and I found this a good platform to put my thoughts across. Problems are there everywhere. That's a fact, whether we accept it or not. Let's not be afraid to see what we see. We can shut our eyes tight and pretend there are no problems or we can do something about it. On my part, I've written about it since presently I am far away from home.

Have I done anything about it then? Yes, I have, in my own little ways. I have encouraged those grieving widows, given due respect to them and gently supported them in whatever way I could to help bring about some sort of joy in their lives. In my own way, I have (in fact, my whole wonderful family has) tried to break free of those cruel customs and traditions and not let the unfortunate widows be marginalized and alienated from the society.

I have a powerful positive example in my immediate family to expound on. I am pleased to inform you that my deceased brother's wife, my dear sister-in-law, is a happy woman today and her confident and bubbling personality does not exhibit any sign that she is suffering as a widow. She is still a cosy part of our lovely big family. We (and by this I mean my entire family) have put an end to some age-old and useless customs and traditions, particularly as far as she was concerned. She joyfully took part in all the rituals where widows generally are not allowed to, including participation in the entire family wedding festivities. Those with rigid thinking and a narrow-mind did have objections and a few more wagged their tongues but did we care? No.

Nandan, this post is written to create awareness that widows do have a problem in India. I do not expect a miracle to happen with one blog post. But let's open our eyes and acknowledge such things do happen. If each of us can help in small ways, we can make a difference. I invite you to read my post titled Empowerment. Matters can change if we take individual responsibility. I do not like that you criticize the NGOs in general and call them 'notorious.' Most of them have very good intentions and some do a reasonably good job that you and I perhaps cannot even think of.

Have you seen 'Babul?' A modern movie with a strong message on the emotional plight of a widow. In spite of stiff criticism and opposition from the traditionalists, to think that a father-in-law of Indian society endeavors to encourage his widowed daughter-in-law to try to lead a happy life with another man in her life is a progressive thought. That is called doing something positive for the right cause. That's what we need to do.

Then there is the movie 'Water' that also portrayed the plight of Widows. Simple and realistic. And then there are these goons that raise a hue and cry and protest when movies with such powerful messages are released. Have those protesters done anything positive in their lives towards such causes other than protest in vain?

There is also the fabulously done and beautifully sensitive movie 'Dor' that tries to project the plight of widows in India. It is reportedly based on a real life incident. Why would someone responsible like Nagesh Kukunoor bother with making that movie as recently as 2006 if we did not face such problems in India?

Let me know if there is a single statement in my post Why? that describes what has not happened in India. Can you say with conviction that a young recently widowed girl of, for example, Rajasthan, would not have thoughts like the ones I've written in my poetry? Are bangles not broken? Is Sindoor not wiped off? Is it not true that bright clothes and jewelry are forbidden? Is not mourning made compulsory? So I ask again, Why?

Anyway, in my post, I have clearly mentioned that I am writing about the plight "of 'some' widows in 'certain' parts of India." So it definitely does not mean every widow in India undergoes such suffering and torment.

Nandan, allow me to ask you a question in turn:
Do you have enough experience to make a statement that indicates that the widows in the Indian society are truly respected and enjoy equal status and full individual rights?

I so hope your answer is in the affirmative.


*~*{Sameera}*~* said...

We need not have personally experienced nor witnesses things firsthand to believe they happen.If we do not know about the existence of something does not mean it is not there.

Bloggerville is indeed a great platform to portray one's creativity and to share opinions.Need not be necessary that all share the same view,and such healthy discussions always shed more light on the issue in focus and broadens the perspective of those involved in them.

One post cannot bring about a sea change,but it can make a difference in its own small way,by reaching out a little more.As they say,"Little drops of water make a mighty ocean"

Nice to know you have done something for such ill-treated widows in your own way.Good going dear!

*~*{Sameera}*~* said...


Lakshmi said...

I have three things to say in this regard
1.The most obvious- a blog is a medium of expression by the self and I guess that explains everything.There are no rules here as long as one doesnt hurt any sensibilities, I guess

2. The plight of the widows is real. There is no escaping the truth. Its tragic and in many villages, small towns and smaller minded families, these conditions exist.

3.However, I believe that there is a change somewhere..a small percentage but its happenning and I think it will take a long time for that change to actually see the light..maybe in some aspects, we must be the change that we want to be and help in changing mindsets

Priyank said...

I'm glad in a way to see that you and your readers have addressed this as a "Social issue" and not as "Womens issue" because it's not narrow as that.

Lakshmi has explicitly put the points forward. My only worry about such discussions is that it stays mostly within the people who can already look beyond such man made social barriers. I hope that the more the people read about social inequalities, the more aware they become of realities and this message is then spread across.

It will take generations to uproot this problem entirely. A lot is also to be blamed on the collectivist mindset of Indian society. A human being declaring do's and dont's for another human being is simply unacceptable.

Sati has gone, almost (maybe there are still unreported cases). Although watching some of the movies and putting myself in their shoes, I wonder if going Sati was the easier escape out.

Nandan Jha said...

Celine -
I am sorry for letting you feel that I am asking you to change your style of blog-writing. It was a personal opinion and would remain a personal opinion. I never thought that my comment would mean this and its entirely my fault for not being attentive on this. Please believe me that I never had any such intention. The worse thing which I could ever do was to be 'judgemental' so again , very Sorry.

To clarify, my personal opinion towards a view is that its much more convincing and real if its a first hand experience. Its perfectly fine to express/discuss/raise/debate ideas which are not your personal experiences in my personal opinion, but as a reader its a very useful information for me to know whether the views expressed by Author are from i-read-it or 'experience'. That greatly helps me to build my knowledge or nourish my thoughts or to evolve. By the way, bad tents were a personal experience. :)

Thanks for responding to my request and it greatly helps me in place the thoughts with this new information.

Now to answer some of the questions which you have asked.

1. I have lived mostly in Delhi. I was not born here but did most of my schooling and college from here. My father moved to Delhi after I was born so we are not really a Delhi-Delhi guys. Sometime around my class X, he moved to Patna and then to Mumbai (I stayed back). My connection to my village is pretty much intact since all the relatives (ALL as in ALL) were back home. After retirement my dad went back to village. I visit them once a year and they come over once/twice an year. It not difficult for me to pass off as True Delhi waala (accent/lingo/etc/etc) and I dont mind being called one. :)

2. I have not seen 'Babul'. I dont plan to either :) sorry. I have seen 'Dor' a few times, mostly from a story-telling/fim-making angle. I have a DVD of same. I do not have too many DVDs.

3. "Do I have enough experience". Its difficult to measure 'Enough' so I can't answer your question. I would try to answer it in a different way. I have seen widows of different ages (my grandfather died before I was born so my grandmother was always a widow, one of my aunts became one when my uncle died of cancer (my mom's generation but happened at a young age), couple of close friends) and some of them I observed (maid's family, someone's someone).

There are two things to this
- customs/rituals (break the bangles etc etc)
- bad treatment

I do not think I can *judge* whether a custom is bad or not, it is in itself a long debate so lets not get into it. Being born in a elite Brahmin I have been fortunate/un-fortunate to be part of n^n (n raise to power n) customs. This particular caste is called Shroits and this community is above Brahmins so much so that they dont marry their sons to Brahmins, ask a proud shroit and he would tell you the story. Even though I am a shroit but I am a bad example to look at, since I married inter-caste and my children are no longer shroits. It was such a great deal that my parents were not around when i was doing the rounds around the fire in Vasant Vihar Club :). Think about it, getting married all by yourself. :), its fun.

A custom may have lost its value over time but I genuinely dont think that I deserve to *judge* a custom. I have all the rights to do my own thing (which I did by getting married using a different set of customs) and even suggest others but I dont think I really can say whether something is incorrect or bad or whatever. Branding some thing 'right' or 'wrong' is not something I should ever do. Again, I am just talking about myself :) so its just me.

- bad treatment - not allowed. If we can't treat people respectfully, we do not deserve to be around. fairly simple for me.

So...that would be my response. I am sorry again, if I let you or anyone of your readers offended through my comment. Since its a long comment, my request would be (to you and to your readers) that it be read twice since its an in-coherent and badly structured thought.

If we meet sometime then I can probably talk to you in person on this philosophy (non-judgements, right/wrong, personal exp bla bla) over a glass of bubbly :)

best wishes

Anonymous said...

While 'Water' was opposed by people, both 'Babul' and "Dor' were not. People do not like caricatures and over-generalizations that border on propaganda. If the subject is handled with truthfulness, sensitivity and balance, it would leave positive impact. One has to connect with heart to change minds and behaviors - heaping insults and indignations can stir controversies and debates but not much.

Like Nandan, I too have lived in India for 25 years in both metro and rural areas of western India, I I too have never seen the kind of atrocities on a person because she is a widow - not in my family, not among my relatives, friends or neighbors, nor many villages I have come to know. May be widows there were well-conditioned to accept life of widowhood and went on with their livesw rather than wallow in hurt or humiliation and make their life more miserable - so they went on living their life with a smile - just like scores of handicap, disabled, orphan, poor people do it routinely in India.

However ground reality about widows acquire different dimensions in media and blogsphere. Ask any blogger if he or she has or is torturing any widow in his/her family or anybody in their family have ever tortured a widow - their answer will be predictable - that they treat their own widows very nicely. Ask them another question if they know some other family who tortures a widow - and most people(except activists) will say they have heard about mistreatment of widows and it is definitely out there but they do not personally know any such family or friend who tortures their widows. However, if you ask the same question to any Feminist/empowerment activists, they will spill all kinds of statistics, stories, personal testimonies and first-hand experiences, not only in society at large, but among their own friends and immediate families. It creates major disconnect between reality and spin. That is why such activism or movies are appreciated by media and activists but make no difference because most people on the ground who think they are good guys and their own family is not part of the problem and therefore they move on with their lives with clean conscience while activists scream hoarse about this social evil and that social evil. Yawn.

Nandan Jha said...

When you have some free time, read a book by Mark Tully, its called 'India in Slow Motion', there is a chapter called 'misplaced charity' which discusses the problem of 'Child Slavery'.

Anonymous and Mark talk the same *exact* thing. While there is a lot of hulla-bullo over child labour in the carpet looms (read about rugmark, its an NGO who is certifying carpets and claiming that they are not loomed by child)
when you actually visit the village around Mirzapur, the situation is totaly different. I dont want to recreate the book here so I would stop.

Another thing which I wanted to talk yesterday but didn't because it was getting too personal was an interaction I had with a starched saree clad NGO women group, apparently they painted such a dark and grim picture of Madhubani (Bihar) that for any outsider it would seem that Madhubani is hell. I belong to that place :), (I belong to Darbhanga, Madhubani was part of Darbhanga and was later carved as a seprate district, its further North and shares its boundary with Nepal) and when I asked more questions, i was amazed to find that they have in-turn outsourced that work to some one else and they were themselves probably in the I-have-read category. It was very frustrating since this interaction was happening in my office (Newgen Software, 1997/98 odd) and there were about 20 odd interested parties in that conference room. Had it not been my question, those 20 good folks with all the right intent would have considered Madhubani as some impoverished kind of place.

Anyway, I think I should stop here :), all good discussion

Indrani said...

Interesting discussion going on here.

I appreciate whatever you have done for your sis-in-law. I appreciate and respect your feelings too.

indicaspecies said...


Thank you for a levelheaded and thoughtful comment. Yes, "Little drops of water make a mighty ocean" and may I also add we must be the change we wish to see in the world, as Gandhi prompted us?

indicaspecies said...


Very well put. Thank you very much for your discerning comment.

Let's do whatever we can to hasten that change, and look forward to seeing it actually happen, sooner than later.

indicaspecies said...


Thank you for your interesting comment, and no Sati please.;)

You are aware I am neither a feminist nor a sexist to call it a Women's issue, and am only trying to be a good human being.

What you say is exactly my intention - to create some sort of an awareness through my humble writings. I wonder if it is insecurities in some human beings that play a role in wanting to control the freedom of another human being.

indicaspecies said...


Thank you for a detailed response and sharing more about you.

Apologies accepted. Peace.

PS: I see there is another comment here to which I shall give my reply asap.

indicaspecies said...


Thank you for your comment.

First of all, I do not appreciate that you do not identify yourself. The least you could do was to let me know who you are, especially so in view of that fact that you have appeared from nowhere and put forward your self-opinionated statements.

Secondly, I beg to differ from your opinion. Even a simple research online can show you how many cases are pending before the Indian courts where widows have filed petitions seeking justice. Surely all that can't be a figment of the imagination of the social activists and NGOs?

Oh, please note I am neither a feminist, nor a sexist, nor belong to any NGO or associated or affiliated groups.

Just as there are several handicap, disabled, orphan and poor people in India, so are there many oppressed widows who live among them. The earlier we understand and acknowledge that fact, the better it would be for the mind-set to change. As I said before, shutting our eyes and just believing the problem does not exist will not make the problem to be solved on its own.

So let's try to listen to the silent screams of those hapless women and get moving. To quote your own words, let us do something to handle the matter with "truthfulness, sensitivity and balance" so "it would leave [a] positive impact."

indicaspecies said...


Thank you for reading this post and your comment.

What we did for her was no natural and is expected of any good human being, so nothing unusual there. I had no intention of bringing up such personal matters in a public forum but I did so on the spur of the moment to convey a point during a hurried reply to Nandan's comment during my short lunch break. Now, I am finding it odd to even talk about it.

I wish you had written your views on whether widows in India are oppressed or enjoy equal rights like others. I'd love you to get back if you have the time to do so, thanks.

indicaspecies said...


On one hand you are talking about some NGO certifying that carpets are not loomed by children while in fact they are, and on the other hand, you are talking of being frustrated with a “starched saree clad” (as if being attired that way is a crime! Isn’t that an individual’s choice?) person from a NGO who was trying to convince a group of 20 people that Darbhanga, Madhubani is “some impoverished kind of place” but you made them feel otherwise.
Have I understood so much accurately from your comment?

I am not ready to touch on general topics of a particular geographic location as I do not have the requisite knowledge to continue in that regard. I will, however, put across a few more thoughts of mine.
Does your comment also mean to say that widows are not socially marginalized in Darbhanga and that there exists a society where widows are not oppressed and lead a life of equal status and with dignity?

What makes you think that I have not read India in Slow Motion? I have also lived 22 years in India like Mark Tully has. And I guess I have a fair idea of what is going on in India, whether it is about Ram Janmabhoomi, or Cyberabad, or Tehelka or problems in Kashmir or carpet industry of Mirzapur that Tully has touched on. I am not at all denying that the problem of child slavery or child labour does not exist in India. In fact, my whole argument is that problems do exist and we can’t be blind about them.

But tell me, has Tully come out with solutions for those problems in that book? Tully has written the book in a journalistic style and I thought you didn’t like journalists, social activists, members of NGO and others from the media. Anyway, Tully has shown his love for India and the Indians, but at the same time he has also conveyed its failings.

Yes, failings. Failings in a place where female foetuses are being murdered quietly after sex determination tests outside some clandestine clinics where they have had the audacity to put signboards like “Pay Rupees 50 now rather than pay Rupees 50,00 later for dowry.” Pathetic. The misconception that a male heir is all that is needed in a family is a tragic matter that is also reprehensible. Isn’t it the mindset among millions of Indians?

Knowing that, how can we pretend that all human beings enjoy equal rights? Then why are more boys sent to school to be educated while more girls are kept at home? For example, in some places like Bihar alone, I think the literacy rate is almost double in case of males. Why?

Atrocities against women in general have increased. I am not sure of the statistics, I can check if necessary in no time, but I guess every hour or so, a woman is either molested, kidnapped or harassed. Every 2 hours or so there is a death due to dowry problems. Several cases go unreported. Do you feel all women in India (or particularly widows - to get back to the topic under discussion) have the guts to stand up when their rights are violated? If not, have you stopped by to think why not? Why is she not confident? Is it because of her lack of faith in the system or is there something else? Is she also not entitled to the fundamental constitutional right like everyone else is?

Have we done enough to encourage those poor women to develop their livelihood to help them earn some income on their own? How many of those widows are economically independent? I'm sure many of them do not even have a bank account of their own, let alone economic freedom, and sadly, this happens even among the so called literate class!

Why just social injustice, there are so many other problems too that is ailing the society today. There is the problem of malnutrition, poverty, high illiteracy rate, infant mortality etc. Problems exist. As I said before, we can shut our eyes and pretend there is no problem, or we can do something about it.

Please do not get me wrong. I love India for whatever it is and however it is. For its success, and in spite of all its failings I am glad to be an Indian citizen as it is one great nation. I don’t know if you have read any of my previous posts that reflects my immense love for India.

At this stage I want to make it clear, yet again, that I am neither a sexist, nor a feminist nor do I belong to any NGO or any empowerment association or any such affiliation with any groups. I do my own little part to help in my own humble ways that I do not wish to elaborate on in this forum.

What I have written above is my own reflection on the topic and you are free to disagree with me.

*~*{Sameera}*~* said...

Yes indeed!We must be :)

Here's to that change.Cheers!

indicaspecies said...


Cuckoo said...

You know Celine ? I came here at least thrice, sat thru the comments as well. Want to write on this but not getting time to put my thoughts together in words. you know what I mean. Let me come back on this.


indicaspecies said...


Thank you very much for making me feel this was worthy of a read again.
I'd love to hear your viewpoint Cuckoo and shall be looking forward to it.

Nazim said...

It’s not just an Indian tragedy sweetheart, I guess its the sub-continent phenomenon.... India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and possibly in Nepal, Bhutan as well...

Yes, in most of the Hindu culture or societies, they do break bangles and wipe out sindoors and force to wear white or colorless clothes and in some, even shaves off their hair and deprives them off with spicy foods and foot wears...
De-socialize them, prohibited from taking part in ceremonies, pujas and weddings and all the functions considered to be auspicious....

As for the Muslims, it is not the religion that put bars but the Ganga Jamuni tehzeeb (culture in this sense) that replicates some of the customs in or among the non-Muslims (read Hindu) culture...

Plus, a lot of orthodox Hindus still follow Manu's scriptures... that was never kind to women, at least this much i learnt in the sociology sessions of my Foundation Course lectures in my B.Sc. classes... But my personal view is that the world is largely male dominated and its patriarchal nature is , as they say, "the nature of the beast".

indicaspecies said...


First of all, my good friend, welcome to my blog, and thank you for your in-depth and interesting comment.:)

I note that you agree to the existence of inequality in the society that is so patriarchial in nature. It's disheartening that the tragedy of inequality exists beyond our borders. As Priyank voiced out above, a "human being declaring do's and dont's for another human being is simply unacceptable" and how I wish selfish human beings understood that simple philosophy.

I am much interested to know more about Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb. I shall email you.

Nazim, once again, your comment that sparks interest to learn more are very much appreciated and many thanks indeed.