If you are widowed in India, then you might just be living a half-life. You merely exist in the shadows of society, ignored and ostracized. Maybe only the Almighty is left as your companion.
Widows in India
Historically, traditions like ‘widow-burning’ or Sati characterized the norms of Hindu society for widows. The treatment they got was extremely discriminatory and inhuman. Practices such as Sati were abolished during the British rule and in 1856 the British legalized widow remarriage in India. Self-immolation or self-sacrifice, sati, on a husband’s pyre may have been banned in India, but life for many widows in India is still disheartening as they are shunned by their communities and abandoned by their families.
Festival not only of colors but of hopes and happiness
Splash of colors took over the oldest Gopinath temple at Mathura as the widows broke an age-old practice which came into existence due to social ill-practices, by first playing the festival of colors with Lord Krishna. Elderly women from Vrindavan and Varanasi gathered to shun taboos and celebrate Holi.
Vrindavan’s Holi celebrations in recent years have become a memorable event for the thousands of widows who used to face humiliation in the past. A widow in Vrindavan said, “Playing Holi has brought new colors into our lives.
In the meantime, hundreds of widows in Vrindavan on Monday decided not to celebrate Holi this time to bewail the sad demise of Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar. He at his private residence in Panaji on Sunday after a continues to battle with pancreatic cancer.
Vrindavan and Varanasi referred to as the “widow cities” of India, welcome thousands of widows every year; those who have no other place left to go. These cities are home to a large number of dingy, suffocated, guest houses and “ashrams” where impoverished and abandoned widows spend the remainder of their lives.
Some are fortunate enough to be allowed in bhajan ashrams where they may sit in shifts to chant prayers for a four-hour shift they can earn a cup of rice and about seven rupees. But most old widows suffer from ailments of all kinds and have nobody to look after them. They must cover for themselves in every way, whether it’s earning or doing chores. The situation is more extreme within some of India’s tradition-bound rural areas. There, deprivation and poverty is a certainty if a woman is widowed.
Tears and a riot of colors marked Holi for over a thousand widows who broke the age-old tradition and celebrated the festival. They smeared colors on each other’s faces and danced to the tunes of traditional Holi songs. Young Sanskrit scholars and pundits from the temple joined the celebrations, signifying the further social assimilation and acceptance of these windows.
Voice for change must come from within the society, and the first step would be to change the mindset that hates widows and deprives them of their right to live. If we see human beings as disposable entities then we have done the greatest disrespect to whoever we worship.