Target: Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh
Goal: Stop the marginalization of Hindu widows
An illustration of India’s deep-rooted patriarchal society can be depicted by an outlawed Hindu practice known as Sati, in which a widow is burned with the body of her deceased husband. This sacrifice was considered the ultimate act of devotion to one’s husband. Although Sati is no longer practiced, widows are often ostracized by their family and their community. Their husband’s death means the death of their social lives., and as such, to some, death may be preferable. These superstitious relatives blame the husband’s death on the widow, believe that she will bring bad luck to the household, and see her as an unwanted financial liability. These widows are often uneducated and have no means for legal recourse in terms of inheritance, custody of children, etc. This is especially true for child brides, something that is still practiced in India despite it being outlawed since 1929. In the western world, many would view remarriage as a fairly routine option for widows, but it is a Hindu cultural taboo.
Although remarriage was made legal for Hindu women since the mid-19th century by the British empire, it is still not a widely accepted practice and remains a contentious social issue. In large urban centers, views on remarrying are more liberalized, but conservative views are still prevalent in rural areas and smaller cities. Widows are forbidden from remarrying in deference to their late husbands. They are expected to live a life of celibacy, seclusion, and abandonment of all worldly pleasures. Some shave their heads, abandon their jewelry, and leave their colorful sari (traditional Indian clothing) in order to deter sexual advances from men.
With nowhere to return to and no financial footing to support themselves, many of these widows journey to a holy town called Vrindavan to live out the rest of their lives. The conditions they live in are abhorrent. Most of these women are reduced to begging and prostitution in order to survive. Some sing hymns in ashrams (Hindu spiritual centers) but only receive 10$ a month for their services. The majority of their meager income goes into shared rent with other widows. With little to no income, many of these women become malnourished. According to a study by Guild for Service the mortality rates for widows in India are 85% higher than married women.
Even in death, these women are not shown an ounce of dignity. In 2012, a report revealed that the bodies of deceased widows in Vrindavan government shelters were disposed of in a grisly and inhumane manner. Their bodies were chopped into pieces, put into jute bags, and disposed of because there were no funds to provide a proper burial or cremation. This gross neglect of Hindu widows needs to stop. Sign this petition to demand India’s government make substantive reforms.
Dear Prime Minister Manmohan Singh,
Your government needs to launch an educational campaign against orthodox Hindu beliefs that marginalize women, and specifically widows. These barbaric beliefs should be condemned in the strongest terms. Legal action needs to be taken against relatives who force these women to live in such appalling conditions. A pension and welfare program should be implemented to alleviate the abject poverty that plague these widow communities. Initiatives should be taken to rehabilitate, educate, and reintegrate these women back into society. These women’s lives shouldn’t end with their husband’s death. They deserve to live a fulfilling life as widows, and be given the option to remarry without being stigmatized.
Women should not be punished further after the death of their husband. Please implement meaningful reforms to uplift the status of Hindu widows.
[Your Name Here]
Image Credit: JP Davidson via Flickr