Widows to remarry widows in India

Offended and discriminated against

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India's widows live on the fringes of society

By Hilmar König / New Delhi *

It was the thoughtless remark of a former actress that recently once again brought the bitter fate of Indian widows into the public eye. Hema Malini, former “dream girl” of Bollywood and now a member of parliament, demanded a stop of the migration of abandoned widows to Vrindavan, the holy city of the Hindu god Krishna in the state of Uttar Pradesh. Non-governmental organizations and the media heavily criticized the statements made by the 65-year-old MPs.

Apparently the sight of hundreds of begging widows shocked the politician during a visit to Vrindavan. Her subsequent conclusions showed, however, that she either did not understand the socio-cultural problem or wanted to give the misery in the "city of widows" a political accent. Uttar Pradesh is ruled by the regional Samajwadi Party, but Malini is a member of the Indian People's Party (BJP), ruling New Delhi. The widows who do not come from the area have no business there, the politician rumbled. In West Bengal and Bihar, from where many women who have been cast out by their families come to Vrindavan, there are finally enough temples in which they can find refuge, Malini said. And anyway, the widows are not doing so badly: »They have a bank account, a good income, nice places to sleep. But they beg out of habit. ”The sources from which Malini obtains the information for such absurd claims remains her secret.

The situation of the widows is one of the worst problems in India. After the death of the husband, the opinion still widespread in many parts of the country, the bereaved become useless. 150 years ago she ended up at the stake next to her husband's body. Today it is considered worthless. They are deprived of their dignity, discriminated against and pushed to the very edge of society. When she has fulfilled her marital and motherhood duties, she can be disposed of like garbage. She is tortured physically and mentally, has no rights, is not allowed to remarry even as a young widow and is seen as a financial burden.

If the children do not reject them directly, then they make the mother's life so hell that the only thing left for her to do is to flee to the "city of widows". 40,000 are said to have found more bad than right shelter in Vrindavan - in temple asylums or dirty quarters without a drinking water supply and often without toilets. Some receive a monthly pension of 300 rupees, the equivalent of four euros. Some are given a meager ration of flour and sugar. Her daily duties include singing religious hymns in the temples. To survive, they have to go begging. Women have no right to vote here, which is why they are not a factor in the political parties and are neglected. And this despite the fact that the Supreme Court of India issued a directive in 2012 expressly obliging the government to look after the widows.

It is non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that try to help the outcasts. And it is these organizations that are now sharply criticizing Hema Malini. "She is a member of parliament and should ensure that the state intervenes and guarantees the social security of the widows," demanded Mohini Giri from the aid organization "Guild for Service". For Sonal Singh Wadhwa, head of the NGO Maitri, callous remarks like Malini's take away the last remnant of dignity from the widows. "They have no other place to take refuge," she said. Meanwhile, the daily newspaper The Hindu comments that it is not religion that attracts women, "but poverty drives them to Vrindavan." Not the holy city of Krishna, but Indian society has a problem with the widows.

* From: Junge Welt, Thursday, October 9, 2014

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