India is patriarchal country which has always subdued and sub-ordinated women or female counterparts in social structures. One of these patriarchal social phenomena is alienation or marginalization of widows from mainstream of society.
Who are Widows and how people treat with them :-
In India it is considered that being a widow is a curse and a widow brings sufferings to the family. Thanks to the efforts of Lord William Bentinck who abolished Sati pratha or custom of burning women and most often young girls with the pyre of husband. Many atrocities against widows have stopped with government efforts still women are considered a burden on men. Though the society has division of work works of men are given due consideration in comparison to women. Though Rigveda and Manusmriti along with many other religious scriptures advocate equal status and respect should be given to female for growth of society there are instances of violation of rights of women. Some of these are denying them education and loss of employment after marriages which make female financially dependent on their spouses.
Thus, death of husband gives total loss of finance and women are often considered a burden. People belonging to these women leave them to Widow Houses run by NGOs and Governments. Sometimes these orphaned women after demise of husband are left on streets to beg and die.
Widow houses or Widow Ashram is an effort to give shelter to these orphaned and ostracized women. In Widow Ashram these widows find shelter, clothing, food and sometimes employment with efforts of philanthropists.
But the effort gave rise to a new class of intelligentsia that scrutinised reasons of backwardness of India and its subjugation to the British. This new class saw the path of progress in an acceptance of the best of the East and the West. They denied the superiority of the western culture and prevented masses from becoming the puppet of British. They drew inspiration from the India’s heritage and reinterpreted it in combination of modern and scientific knowledge. Result was the birth of the many socio-religious movements.
Activities in Widow Houses: :-
- Religious Preachings and prayers
- Training to make widows self-dependent
- Teaching to educate widows
- Other cultural activities like celebration of festivals, bhajans etc.
Widow Ashram in Varanasi :-
Since Varanasi is a religious city many Widow Houses are constructed by philanthropist, NGOs and government to give shelter to dying, helpless and old widows. Reason of such a big number of Widow Houses and Widow Ashram is also that widows are abandoned in Varanasi to die as it is believed that one who dies in Varanasi gets salvation.
In North India society is less sensitive than South India as women are allowed white and red clothes basically sarees in South India while they are not allowed to wear any other color than white in North India. Widow-hood gives a lifelong loss of one’s partner and to add more social stigma.
Generally widows who are left by families are kept in Widow Houses. Condition of widows in Widow Ashram is not always good sometimes these women are not remained with even single penny to fulfill any of their smallest desires as government stops financial assistance to Ashram for months.
Some Important Widow Ashram in Varanasi -
- Mata Anandmayi Ashram
- Birla Widow Home at Chowk
- Asha Bhawan
- Nepali Widow Ashram run by Nepal Government
- Durga Kund Widow Ashram
Dress code of Widow -
In south India are allowed to wear either white or red saree whereas in North India widows are allowed to wear only white
Indian thinking about Widows
In India a common belief is that a widow is widow because of some past improbity. Why this condition is not with men.?
In India it is believed to be a bad luck if someone sees face of a widow early in the morning or setting out for a new task. Widows are marginalized, denied entry to join temples and functions at houses.
In widow house one can get an opportunity to directly interact with widows and their perceptions of social stigmatization. People visit Widow Ashram to share a moment of gloom from their lives unfortunate lives. Research Scholars especially from abroad come to understand the social phenomena and role of widows in death of husbands, their family associations, superstitions regarding widows in Indian Society, Their condition in Widow Houses, Government efforts to change the scenario etc.
Varanasi is a city with more than 38,000 widows at its various ashram and Widow Houses. It is a highest in any city after Vrindavan in India.