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Do the widows of Vrindavan live there out of choice or because they have no choices? Hema Malini's comments on widows reveal a shocking lack of compassion
Do the widows of Vrindavan live there out of choice or because they have no choices? Parliamentarian Hema Malini’s comments on widows reveal a shocking lack of compassion as well as knowledge.
Celebrity film personality and Member of Parliament Hema Malini recently took it upon herself to focus on the widows of Vrindavan. But rather than shed a tear for these women who have been condemned to a life of forced piety and serious deprivation, this former Rajya Sabha MP in her wisdom has questioned the presence of these widows in Vrindavan, and claimed that in spite of a good bank balance and nice beds, the women beg out of habit. Since most of these women hail from Bengal, and some from Bihar, she has demanded that they stay put in their respective states, rather than continuing to crowd this temple town…
Not only is the statement parochial and in contravention to the rights granted by our Constitution to all Indians to work and settle in any part of India, but insensitive and downright indecent and shameful.
It makes one livid when Ms. Hema Malini refuses to apologize, and upholds what she said claiming that she has said nothing to be ashamed of.
And what gives her the right to make these remarks, pray?
Simple. She is a parliamentarian who won out of Mathura, wherein the temple-town of Vrindavan is located .
One always had doubts about her intelligence. But this is the pits.
The widow in India has, since times immemorial, been looked upon as the manifestation of all that is evil, and a harbinger of bad luck. A widow must keep away from all non-vegetarian food, shun jewellery and footwear, shave off her head, and never participate in joyous occasions. If a widow is childless, she is looked upon as additional mouth to feed, and has no status in a joint family household. Hence, they are conveniently dumped, or else driven out of their homes to fend for themselves.
None of these women have chosen to live far from their homes and hearths in Vrindavan. They are there because they were abandoned by their relatives, and lack the means to return back home.
None of these women have chosen to live far from their homes and hearths in Vrindavan. They are there because they were abandoned by their relatives, and lack the means to return back home. Many are there because their relatives wanted to grab their rightful share of property, and deny them their rights in the absence of a legal heir. The younger ones are ruthlessly exploited sexually in return for their meals, while the older ones – bent and decrepit, try to beg and drag through a life that they pray will soon end.
In fact, the plight of the widowed women in Vrindavan makes one wonder whether reformers like Raja Ram Mohan Roy were right in putting an end to sati, given the fact that widowhood in Hinduism is condemned as a fate worse than death.
Their plight is a blot on Hinduism and its social mores that render a widowed woman a pariah. As someone who identifies herself with the Hindu right, she ought to right the wrongs perpetrated by Hinduism.
As a parliamentarian, she ought to have looked into why these widows never receive what the government has earmarked for their well-being; especially since the Swadhar Scheme had been especially formulated by the Ministry for Human Resources Development ( HRD) aiming at women in difficult circumstances with no economic resources of their own, wherein provisions were made for food, clothing and shelter for widowed and abandoned women whose families have failed them. The Antyodhya Anna Yojana too, aims to provide rice and wheat for the poorest families and individuals across the country at Rs.3 and Rs.2 respectively.
The Antyodaya and Swadhar schemes should have ensured a decent living for the widows. But, as a survey done by the District Legal Services Authority following an initiative by NALSA ( National Legal Services Authority) found, even the little earmarked for these widows is received only once in six months. Often, the funds get siphoned off, leaving these women to sing bhajans for Rs.4 a day and beg for a meal. In death, these women are denied a decent cremation. Their dead bodies are picked up by sweepers in gunny bags, and dumped into the river, after being crudely broken into pieces.
To make remarks about why they are there, and not in Bengal, Bihar or Odisha, where they belong to, is adding insult to injury. For someone who lives in the lap of luxury, unmindful of the humiliating living conditions of these poor widows who live in shabby places devoid of water and toilets, remarks like hers smack of plain mockery.
Her remarks are also a sad comment on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who chose her as a candidate to contest the elections, banking on her celebrity status. If the BJP, and its parent/constituent organisations care for the Hindus, they would do well to prevent their parliamentarians from making such irresponsible remarks, and instead work towards ensuring a life of dignity for these poor uncared-for Hindu women, whose sole crime happens to be widowhood.
It is heartening, though, that Sulabh International, an organisation headed by a male, Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, has shown a lot more empathy towards these unfortunate women by adopting around 1700 of them two years ago. In fact, Sulabh International has extended its reach to include the widows of Varanasi too. And this, in spite of acknowledging that its own work is “ just a drop in the ocean.”
Sulabh has not only taken steps to ensure that these women get Rs.2000 per month to meet their expenses, but tried striking at the roots of the social order that makes widows shun all festivities. They got these women to celebrate Diwali, Holi and other festivals the way they had done decades ago, even bringing a small group to Kolkata this year during Durga Puja , making them feel equal to all from deep within.
It clearly shows that it is a misconception to believe that a woman would show more empathy towards her own kind; you need not belong to the same gender to be in tune with the suffering of the less fortunate. You need to have your heart in the right place ……something that Hema Malini clearly does not!
Image of widow in white via Shutterstock
An independent journalist with over 27 years 'experience in the print and online media, and a doctorate in African Studies, Dr Rina Mukherji is the recipient of numerous national and international academic and media fellowships read more...
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