INTERNATIONAL WIDOWS DAY: A timeline of lives of Widows in India.

Today, June 23, is a very important day for one of the most neglected sections of our society, and they are none other than the widows. International Widows Day was firstly established by The Loomba Foundation to increase awareness about the tyrannies faced by widows all across the world. June 23 was especially adopted by the Loomba Foundation because it was on this day in 1954 the mother of foundation’s owner became a widow. Later on in 2010, this date was officially adopted by United Nations to focus on issues of widowhood.

Widowhood in India: A brief History.

During ancient times, after the death of a man, their wives were expected to live an execrable and damnable life. Widows were made to wear only white clothes, shave their heads and had limited options for having food of their choice. Untouchability and ostracism of widows were at peak. At some places widows were forced to undergo the Sati practice in which widows had to sacrifice themselves by sitting atop their deceased husband’s funeral pyre. These practices came from the patriarchal idea that if a husband’s life is over, his wife’s life is also over.

Ban of Sati Practice: Prominent Social Reformer Raja Rammohan Roy led the movement against the evil practice of Sati in India and finally on December 4, 1829, Bengal Sati Regulation was passed by Lord William Bentinck.

Widow Remarriage: A significant change!

Indian Social Reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar from Bengal was one of the major leaders who advocated in favour of remarriage of widows in India. He received support from several dignitaries of that time including Rani Rashmoni of Kolkata to many other government officials in East India Company.

Finally, Hindu Widows’ Remarriage Act, 1856, was drafted by Lord Dalhousie and passed by Lord Canning for remarriage of Hindu Widows in all jurisdictions of India under East India Company.

Did the lives of widows change after the progressive law?

The simple answer to the question above is “no”. Although things have improved in well-read and educated families where widows don’t have to go through the same amount of brutality as before, however things have not changed for millions of widows in India.

Abandonment: A newer problem!

Widows, even in 21st century have to face massive amount of torture from confinement to lack of care in many Indian families who have a patriarchal and out-dated approach.

Most women in India are not financially independent and are dependent on their husbands for daily needs. And thus, when the husband passes away widows become financially vulnerable. Children of the widows do not take the responsibility of their well-being and abandon them. With no options left, widows take shelter in old age homes or take the path of spiritual life and settle in ashrams of holy cities like Varanasi and Vrindavan. There are also some NGOs and private bodies in these holy cities who take care about the wellbeing of the widows including their medical and food expenses. Widows are also encouraged to engage themselves in some relatively easy jobs like stitching and sewing by these NGOs to have financial stability.

There are more than 50 million widows in India and its high time that we as a society and government must step up to protect their rights and make a discrimination free environment for them.