Plight of Widows
In India to be a widow is a curse, said DMK leader Tiruchi Siva in the Rajya Sabha the other day, the last day of the Monsoon session of Parliament.

Giving graphic descriptions of the wretched condition of widows all over the country, he referred pointedly to the plight of the widows of Vrindavan—about whom everyone knows but nobody cares.

By raising the long-neglected issue, Shiva is to have touched a chord— many Members of the Upper House contributed to the discussion on his private member's resolution with touching empathy and even practical solutions to the problem that many described as a shameful blot on the image of a country that professes to be on the path for justice to all and progress on all fronts.

Among those who took part were Sonal Man Singh, the eminent dancer who was nominated to the Upper House just a month ago, Amee Yagnik of the Congress who was elected from Gujarat in March this year and Ravi Prakash Verma of the Samajwadi Party from Uttar Pradesh.

The tone and tenor of the discussions was in sharp contrast to the usual crocodile tears that are shed about the horrific crimes of gang-rape and mob-lynching that has become the norm in recent years. The inhuman treatment of widows in India is all-pervasive and evidently deep-rooted in the psyche of society, not just lawless acts perpetrated by groups of demented individuals.

The stark statistics show that India has the largest population of widows in the entire world—4.3 crore as per the 2011 Census. This amounts to 7.3 percent of the country's total female population.

The horror story is that despite claims to modernity the bulk of Indian society is still engrained in the mindset that widows are impure—archaic age old practices prevail under which the death of the husband leads to the social ostracism of the wife, whether old or young.

With the decay in the old structures of joint families and the mushrooming of nuclear family units, heartless economic justifications are added to the irrational superstitions whereby widows are considered a financial burden as well as being a symbol of ill-luck. Even otherwise, an estimated 72 percent of the female population above the age of 60 years is considered as unwanted dependents.

Even educated families who consider themselves urbane and respectable, have the same mindset—they either treat their widowed relatives as vassals or else cast them away on one pretext or another. Conditions are far worse for those widows who belong to the poorer classes and castes in the unorganised sector, which constitutes 70 percent of India's population.
R S, New Delhi

Vol. 51, No.19, Nov 11 - 17, 2018