The mindset towards widows needs to be changed — this was the dominent view to emerge from discussions of religious leaders and social activists here on the status of widows, who are still virtually treated as outcasts in most Indian societies.
The Guild of Service in collaboration with UN Women organised a meet here Friday to express concern over the state of 15,000 widows languishing in the so-called ‘shelter homes’ of Vrindavan, after being shunned by their families.
A survey conducted by the Guild for Service in 2010 on the widows of Vrindavan with the support of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) highlights the socio-economic, health and hygiene conditions of the widows living here.
The study looked not just at their poverty levels but also the general attitude towards widows, their literacy levels and ability to access the various interventions by the government and their own sense of self-esteem.
UN Women regional policy advisor Madhubala Nath said: ‘I am happy that a workshop on the situation of widows is being held through the UN platform so that the concerns and problems of widows can be discussed and addressed.’
World Council of Arya Samaj convenor Swami Aryavesh stressed: ‘It is unfortunate that women are still considered second class citizens. The condition of widows has become worse. In order to improve their condition we have to change the mindset of society.
Savita Maa, 67, came to Vrindavan in 1995 from Bengal. She spoke of how the Guild for Service taught her to be self-reliant and independent and live life with dignity and respect.
‘I knew nothing. But after taking auxiliary nurses training at Ma Dham centre, Vrindavan, I feel empowered and capable of taking care of myself. All the widows in our country should be similarly empowered.’
Mansha Devi, who has two sons, became a widow at the age of 25. She was not allowed to step out of her marital home.
Since joining the Ekal Nari Sansthan, she feels more independent and empowered because it gives her exposure to experience new things in life.
‘The advocacy programme conducted by Ekal Nari Sansthan has helped to remove the stigma of being inauspicious that is attached to widows in many places.’Guild for Service chairperson Mohini Giri said: ‘Till such time that men change their mindset and until people like religious leaders pursue the cause of ‘Matru Shakti’, until then the status of women will remain low.’
Although there are a number of schemes for the welfare of destitute widows and senior citizens living below the poverty line, there are a few beneficiaries because there is no proper registration or estimate of the actual number of widows living in the area.