Vrindavan, India – Self-immolation, sati, on a husband’s pyre may have been banned in India, but life for many widows in India is still disheartening as they are shunned by their communities and abandoned by their families.
“I used to wash dishes and clothes in people’s house to earn money, but the moment they heard that I am a widow, I was thrown out without any notice,” said 85-year-old Manu Ghosh, living in Vrindavan, a city in the Northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.
Vrindavan is home to more than 20,000 widows, and over the years, many shelters for widows run by the government, private enterprises and NGOs have mushroomed in the city. The city, which is considered holy by Hindus, has become known as the ‘City of Widows’.
“I had to sleep on the street as even my family abandoned me after my husband’s death. I was married off to him when I was 11 years old and he was 40.
“My daughter died of malnutrition as I could not give her food since nobody wanted to help a widow.
“After her death, I decided to come to Vrindavan. A woman should die before her husband’s death so that she doesn’t have to live through hell like this,” Gosh says.
The women often live in acute poverty and are ostracised by society due to various superstitions – even the shadow of a widow can wreak havoc and bring bad luck, people believe. Lack of education and any source of income forces them to beg on streets and many turn to prostitution for survival.
“My children threw me out of the house after my husband died,” says Manuka Dasi. “I try to earn money by singing devotional songs in temple and manage to get one meal for the day. I am just waiting to die so that I can be out of this life of misery.”
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