The Forgotten Widows of Vrindavan in India

The Forgotten Widows of Vrindavan in India

Rekha Pande (University of Hyderabad, India)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4772-3.ch015

Abstract

This chapter looks at some of the issues of old women in India with a special focus on widows in the city of Vrindavan. In India, social mores inhibit women from re-marrying, resulting in an increased likelihood of women ending up alone. In many conservative Indian Hindu families, widows are shunned because they're seen as bringing bad luck. Most of these widows find refuge in Vrindavan. The data for this study was collected through interviews with 50 widows and two group discussions in the six homes (ashrams) for the widows. Data was collected pertaining to their age, literacy, socio-economic background, marriage, life after marriage, work, experiences of widowhood, and their stay in Vrindavan. The chapter concludes by stating that very little information is available on these widows. There is a need for better data collection and research on the inheritance practices, socio-economic and cultural status of widows, as widows are left out of many schemes and policies of the government. These widows need to be treated as human beings and brought to the mainstream of the women's movement.
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Introduction

The present paper looks at some of the issues of the old women in India, with a special focus on widows who are in the city of Vrindavan. The data for this study was collected through a structured and unstructured interview in the month of November and December in 2015, with 50 widows and two group discussions consisting of 80 widows in the first group and 60 widows in the second group, in the six homes (ashrams), for the widows in Vrindavan. Of these homes, four were private(Maitri Ghar, Ma Sharda Mahila Ashraya Sadan, Sri Bhagwan bhajan Ashram, Ma dham and the two run by Government named, Chaitanya Vihar, Phase one and Chaitanya Vihar, Phase two). In depth unstructured interviews were conducted to gather the life stories of women. Data was collected pertaining to their age, literacy, socio-economic background, marriage, life after marriage, work, experience of widowhood and their stay in Vrindavan.

A category of Indian women that have a unique position is the widows and attitude towards them reflect the paradoxical stand on women. A culture which emphasises on the married status and as a nation deeply entrenched in patriarchal ideologies as far as women are concerned, a widowed woman poses a threat to the social organization and is to be stayed away from, at all costs. On one hand, women are venerated as goddesses and considered as the source of the creative feminine power that holds the authority to construct or destruct the universe. On the other, they are labelled as evil, entrance to hell and a bad influence which should be stayed away from. A woman in the Indian culture is seen as property and is not seen as a successful woman unless she has a son and runs her household well and keeps her husband healthy. When her husband dies she loses her identity and dignity for she has been taught from a young age that she is nothing without her husband and therefore responds as if she is useless when she is widowed and becomes a non-being.

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