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The invisible plight of India’s widows

prasad1

Gold Member
Gold Member
To become a widow is to experience profound personal tragedy. Tragically, for many of India’s widows, the pain of such a loss and the grief that ensues lays the foundation for continued hardship – for a life marked by stigmatisation, dehumanisation, loneliness, and despair.

Widowed women populate India in significant numbers. “There are at least 55 million widows in India, probably more,” reports a Hindu Business Line article published in October 2017 (and updated the following January). “That is around the same as the entire population of countries like South Africa and Tanzania, more than all the people in South Korea or Myanmar.”

June 23rd marks International Widows’ Day – and the United Nations outlines just how fraught the life of a widow can be. “There are an estimated 258 million widows around the world, and nearly one in ten live in extreme poverty,” it notes. The observance of International Widows’ Day presents “an opportunity for action towards achieving full rights and recognition for widows. This includes providing them with information on access to a fair share of their inheritance, land and productive resources; pensions and social protection that are not based on marital status alone; decent work and equal pay; and education and training opportunities. Empowering widows to support themselves and their families also means addressing social stigmas that create exclusion, and discriminatory or harmful practices.”

In 2015, the proportion of widows worldwide living in poverty was as high as one in seven. That year, India – with a reported 46 million widows at that time – became the country with the largest population of widows, overtaking China. Since then, the number has ostensibly increased – and may not reflect the true burden of widowhood in the country.

In India, many widows have flocked to the city of Vrindavan – a city that has become internationally recognized, by sources ranging from BBC News in the United Kingdom to The New York Times in the United States, as the nation’s “city of widows.” This inauspicious designation betrays the suffering that too often accompanies widowhood. The Independent last year reported the story of Nirmala Maheshwari who, upon being widowed, felt her family considered her “a burden” and endured physical abuse, including starvation and beatings, from relatives. She, like many others who find themselves in the position of widowhood, went to Vrindavan and took up occupancy in a government-run ashram.

Nonetheless, the sociocultural bias many Indian widows endure – a reflection of the country’s manifold issues as it pertains to gender parity and sex-based bias – still incurs a devastating toll. The practice of sati – the self-immolation by a widow upon her husband’s funeral pyre – is illegal now, but multiple forms of dehumanisation persist. Women can be denigrated as ‘it’ upon the loss of their spouse; they may be ostracised in their communities, endure restrictions about their physical appearance, sex lives and even diets, be confined to their homes or expelled from them entirely.

Even life in the ashrams like the one occupied by Maheshwari poses difficulties. Women can be forced to resort to begging or prostitution. As SBS News notes, “while the government runs ashrams, they only accommodate a fraction of what is needed, leaving NGOs [non-government organisations], charities and religious organisations to step in.”

The stigma surrounding widows endures today and ought to be addressed. It is undoubtedly good that governments, NGOs, and other entities are working to support widows – but there is a broad societal need, one no less than a moral and social imperative, to end the stigma surrounding widowhood. Taking an axe to social mores that denigrate widows and affording them the respect and humanity they deserve will not be an easy task. However, for society’s sake, it must not be viewed as a task beset by insurmountable odds.



I really miss great leaders like Raj Ram Mohan Rai who will fight for social;l justice. Instead, we have leaders in India and some on this site will claim superior knowledge but practice superstitions.


The treatment of widows in the western world must be a beacon to Indian culture.
 
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prasad1

prasad1

Gold Member
Gold Member
There is also an urgent need to adopt new perspectives on widowhood. It is essential to break through the glass ceiling of ingrained parochial patriarchy and create a gender equal and humanely just world. With proper awareness and policies, we can hope to make great strides towards the achievement of rights for the widows of South Asia that will set an example for the rest to help usher in a world where widows live a life of dignity, equal rights and equal standing.



Social, religious, political, and so-called elitist leaders are to blame for the plight of widows in India.
Instead of peddling superstitions, and showing off their knowledge of "culture" they should work to remove this blot in Indian culture.
 
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