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In Pictures: Reaching out to Vrindavan widows
In break from tradition, activists are training women seen as burden in textile and other craft production.
Last updated: 12 Jun 2014 06:58
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Vrindavan, a town in northern India with an ancient history, is regarded as one of the most sacred places in Hinduism.

The town is also home to thousands of widows who traditionally spend their remaining days without their family, leading a life of religious dedication. They are often sent to Vrindavan by their remaining family members once they become widows, rejected as inauspicious and seen as a burden.

Living communally in ashram temples, they fill their time praying and chanting to lord Krishna in exchange for small amounts of rice, water and a bed. They also beg on the streets to eke out a living.

In recent years, traditions have been broken as NGOs, along with international fashion designers, are training women in textile and other craft production, which they are paid for.

The widows are provided with lessons in Bengali, English and Hindi literacy, as well as financial and healthcare support. NGOs are increasingly expected to look after India's impoverished widows who are consistently neglected by the government.

Living together with a sense of solidarity, this community of widows lead a simple and poverty-stricken life but with dignity and purpose.

Additional text by Patrick Keddie


/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

New York-based fashion designer Kopal visited Vrindavan and announced she was launching a new training project in partnership with Sulabh International, an Indian not-for-profit NGO.



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

The project is part of a concerted recent effort by NGOs to develop skills and harness the market; shifting the emphasis from charity towards enabling widows to become economically self-sufficient.  



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

In a move that breaks regular tradition, women are now being taught literacy in Bengali, English and Hindi in an attempt develop new skills.



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

Sulabh’s involvement with the widows of Vrindavan began in 2012 and they now oversee the running of seven government ashrams and one private ashram for Nepalese widows - around 800 widows in total.  



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

Widows work on textiles that will later be sold in local markets. The women are also being trained by Kopal.



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

Widows also make other crafts such as incense sticks to be sold at local markets. The women are paid a percentage for the items sold.



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

So far around 25 women have started training with Kopal and the plan is to expand the number.



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

While widows are no longer be expected to throw themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre, in some traditional Hindu communities they are still often regarded as inauspicious and "untouchable", in spite of their previously-held caste or class.



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

Financial factors or petty family jealousies may also play a role, and the women may leave or be forced out because they are regarded as a burden.



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

Whether the widows can gain substantive benefits from social entrepreneurship schemes remains to be seen. Many NGOs believe that such projects are only a partial solution without government action and, whilst they can deliver benefits, they can also provide opportunities for exploitation and corruption.



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

Sabita Raychow Dhury, 68, presents a portrait of her deceased husband from many years ago.



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

Basanti Dasi, 70, sits in her quarters at the Radha Kunj ashram.



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

Widows chanting the Hare Krishna mantra in Meera Sahabhagini ashram. The women congregate twice a day to worship lord Krishna.



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

A flower pot, old but still beautiful, stands in the Meera Sahabhagini ashram. 



/David Shaw/Al Jazeera

Women cook inside their quarters of the Swadher Matila Ashram.




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captions:

New York-based fashion designer Kopal visited Vrindavan and announced she was launching a new training project in partnership with Sulabh International, an Indian not-for-profit NGO.

;*;

The project is part of a concerted recent effort by NGOs to develop skills and harness the market; shifting the emphasis from charity towards enabling widows to become economically self-sufficient.  

;*;

In a move that breaks regular tradition, women are now being taught literacy in Bengali, English and Hindi in an attempt develop new skills.

;*;

Sulabh’s involvement with the widows of Vrindavan began in 2012 and they now oversee the running of seven government ashrams and one private ashram for Nepalese widows - around 800 widows in total.  

;*;

Widows work on textiles that will later be sold in local markets. The women are also being trained by Kopal.

;*;

Widows also make other crafts such as incense sticks to be sold at local markets. The women are paid a percentage for the items sold.

;*;

So far around 25 women have started training with Kopal and the plan is to expand the number.

;*;

While widows are no longer be expected to throw themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre, in some traditional Hindu communities they are still often regarded as inauspicious and "untouchable", in spite of their previously-held caste or class.

;*;

Financial factors or petty family jealousies may also play a role, and the women may leave or be forced out because they are regarded as a burden.

;*;

Whether the widows can gain substantive benefits from social entrepreneurship schemes remains to be seen. Many NGOs believe that such projects are only a partial solution without government action and, whilst they can deliver benefits, they can also provide opportunities for exploitation and corruption.

;*;

Sabita Raychow Dhury, 68, presents a portrait of her deceased husband from many years ago.

;*;

Basanti Dasi, 70, sits in her quarters at the Radha Kunj ashram.

;*;

Widows chanting the Hare Krishna mantra in Meera Sahabhagini ashram. The women congregate twice a day to worship lord Krishna.

;*;

A flower pot, old but still beautiful, stands in the Meera Sahabhagini ashram. 

;*;

Women cook inside their quarters of the Swadher Matila Ashram.

Daylife ID:
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Photographer:
;*;;*;;*;;*;;*;;*;;*;;*;;*;;*;;*;;*;;*;;*;
Image Source:
David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera;*;David Shaw/Al Jazeera
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