This post can be reckoned as a continuation of my previous post titled Widow. I have written the poetry here as the sorrowful thoughts of that young Widow.
Never wished anyone bad
Ill-luck, curse, how am I?
Love colours, jewellery
Can’t wear and eat what I wish? Why?
Degraded to dark-room
Why none touch or love me anymore?
Always wished for his long-life
Why am held responsible for his death?
Please understand, I’ve always loved him
Then, why must I suffer for that?
With a population of over 1 billion, it is estimated that there are about 50 million widows in India. Mostly in the rural parts of India, widows are looked down upon as disgraceful, unlucky, even cursed.
Girls in India are often married off at a young age, instead of being educated. In case of adverse situations like death of spouse, they usually lack the required skills to support themselves or the knowledge to fight for their basic rights.
In the olden days, widows were expected to jump on the funeral pyre of their husbands to commit a practice called sati. Though the practice was outlawed in 1829, widows still undergo ritual humiliations.
The mark of marriage sindoor that a married woman wears is sometimes substituted in a widow by a vertical ash smear from the top of her forehead to the top of her nose. In extreme cases, a widow’s very presence is considered so ominous that even her shadow is not let to fall on a married woman lest her dreadful destiny befall the other woman!
A widow is quite often made to wear white and to give up wearing fine clothes and jewelry. The unintelligent reasoning is that this is necessary so as to not arouse any carnal desire in other men. In some traditions, they are forced to shave off their heads. Sometimes she is even blamed for her husband’s death. The so called belief then, and probably even now, was that the wife’s bad karma caused the death of her husband.
Widows from joint families are vulnerable to abuse by in-laws and at times evicted from home. The widow rarely succeeds in inheriting her husband’s property which is often usurped by greedy relatives. She is sometimes denied the right to remarry. The poor woman is shunned, and left to live, on her own, a sad life of impoverishment. She is ostracized and is treated as a burden by society. In some cases, widows are not allowed to attend their own children’s weddings because they are so despised in certain cultures!
All this is carried out not necessarily for religious reasons, instead, most likely because of certain savage cultures and traditions!
The 1856 Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act gave women the legal right to remarry and the Hindu Succession Act of 1956 gave women the same inheritance rights as men. Sadly, those rights are not always put into practice. Then there are disheartening clauses like, under Section 2, "a Hindu widow, on remarriage, shall forfeit her right to the property which she has inherited from her husband." I am not aware if this Section 2 has been repealed by the Hindu Succession Act.
But there is hope, thanks to some organizations and social activists who think of ‘service before self’ and endeavour to give status to widows as full-fledged individuals. Dr. Mohini Giri is one of them working on changing the mind-set of the society in this regard.
This post is written to bring to attention on the plight of some widows in certain parts of India. For some cheerful news, I invite you to read my post on Orchha wherein I have given a glimpse of how successful and liberated some Indian women are.
How could I discuss my thoughts with her on matters like though a majority of women in India think and live a kind of life like she did, there is, however, a small percentage that are thankfully liberated and have been so successful that they have won several accolades in every imaginable area - to choose a few fields like in politics, sports, justice, music, activism and service, brains, beauty or films or a combination of them, or for that matter sheer selfless social service.