If You’re an Indian Widow, Your Children Could Kick You Out and Take Everything

Losing a husband in India forces many women into a life of begging and destitution, and despite the country's development little is being done to change things

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Nicky Loh / Getty Images

Women rest in their room inside an ashram shelter for widows in Vrindavan, India, on June 13, 2013

The verandah of the Bihari temple, in Radhakund, a few kilometers away from the Hindu temple town of Vrindavan, comes alive with chants and grateful ululations at 11 o’clock every morning as widows in white saris eat free meals of lentils and rice. “If not for this meal, I would go hungry most days,” says Shakti Dasi, a widow from the northeastern Indian state of Tripura.

Dasi is among the 500 women who eat at the temple kitchen, run by Delhi-based nonprofit, Maitri. Vrindavan and Radhakund are home to around 15,000 widows, most of whom were driven from their homes by family members. “In our country, when women become widows, they cease to exist,” says Winnie Singh, executive director and co-founder of Maitri. “It is a failure not only of the government but of society at large.”

Consider Dasi. The 66-year-old has been on her own for three decades, forced out years ago, she says, by her own sons. “If I asked for money, they would beat me,” she said. She eventually signed away her rights to the small grocery store she ran and set out on a one-way pilgrimage to Vrindavan. Illiterate and unskilled, Dasi, like most widows in Vrindavan and Radhakund, sings religious songs for many hours a day, earning less than a dollar, or sometimes some food. Her ankles are bruised purple-black from standing for hours during the hymns and chants.

It is striking that in the 30 years since Dasi fled, not much has changed for India’s widows. A recent report in the Wall Street Journal examined the harsh life awaiting Punita Devi, the wife of Akshay Kumar Singh, one of the man who has been sentenced to death for raping and murdering a 23-year-old paramedic intern in Delhi last December. Singh hasn’t been hung yet, but Devi’s in-laws have already refused to look after her. Her own parents say they are too poor to take her back.

(MORE: All in a Day’s Work: Can India Promise Its Poor Households 100 Days’ Work a Year?)

“In India widows are treated as untouchables,” says Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of Sulabh International, a Delhi-based nonprofit. Sulabh helps around a thousand widows in Vrindavan and Varanasi, giving them a monthly allowance of $31, as well as health care assistance. Sulabh is also working on a draft bill, which it hopes to table in Parliament next year. The draft suggests a monthly pension for abandoned and destitute widows and to make their eviction from either their parental or husband’s house a punishable crime. “They have to give up every thing … and live a life of isolation,” says Pathak. “That it is happening even today is a huge shame.”

There is the 2007 Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act that makes it an offense for children to abandon their parents, but many of India’s 40 million widows are not aware of their rights under it, and the act provides for only relatively mild penalties (three months jail or a fine not exceeding $100).

“Women fear exercising their rights because they do not want to be branded a bad woman, a bad mother,” says Singh. “We would love to ensure that each of these women live a dignified life, but the magnitude of the problem is depressing.”

For many, there is nothing to do but contemplate the injustice of what has happened to them, with religion of little or no comfort. “I came to Vrindavan looking for my god,” Dasi says, her voice quavering with emotion. “Instead I have become a beggar.”

MORE: Why Is It So Hard to Combat Child Marriage?

122 comments
noorpannu
noorpannu

unless a woman starts thinking of herself, no one would think of her. she is still looked upon as a comodity. even in the 'modern' india. I'm an indian and I wish thinks change. Parents keep telling me that i should get married. i have just started my company and things have just started looking good. but my parents want to find a rich guy and get married to him and eventually if he does not 'allow' me to work after my wedding; he would want me to be a home-maker. i'm a 23 yr old girl of this 'modern' india and even today after being visioned as an inspiration for many, i feel hoping for liberation of all the wpmen in India is wishful thinking. Sad but true! India is male chauvinistic. '

saurabh.d21
saurabh.d21

Indeed its not gone away fully. But if u look at the average age of these widows mentioned in the article, u wud notice its around 70-80 years, as they were pushed by the our dogma driven society long ago. Nowdays with education and economic growth, such prejudice is much lesser and rehabilitation of older women is higher with many NGO giving housing to orphan widows. Young girls r more empowered and educated now, so naturally they work and no longer r an economic burden on greedy relatives. Also, marriage of widows is not a stigma now. U can see, its going away slowly slowly, with cities much better than rural areas.

Anonna Jahan
Anonna Jahan

humans have so much cruelty inside of them :(

SyedShujaHussain
SyedShujaHussain

Over all it looks the situation is not well so need improvements.

AnishShenai
AnishShenai

Full Disclosure: I am an Indian.

Yes, this does happen. Sadly widows do get kicked out. The sons get greedy. Mothers become objects.
 
Oh I am not talking about just India. Just a quick google search, pops up with this - http://www.ipsnews.net/2008/06/rights-mistreatment-of-widows-a-poorly-kept-secret/

Now, I have worked with NGOs at the grassroot level. Has Time, a media magazine, resorted to sensationalism (WHOA SHOCKING)? That is a no-brainer (TIME I expected much more from you)

So now the question lies, how far is the truth. I don't deny the facts in the article. TIME wouldn't be so dumb to publish articles without checking on their sources (I hope)

But the reality is this. There is a saying in India which is almost like a motto. You can google this to verify but here goes. Mata Pita Guru Daivam. It basically means Mother>Father>Teacher>God.

So in this society where we revere our parents. Where we take care of them as soon as we can, where unlike some countries we don't have to take appointments to have lunch with them, this headline as well as the article is a gross misrepresentation of the facts, as well as of the Indian population.

Not every American is a Zimmerman, nor is every Indian a rapist. Humans are essentially the same everywhere. The love for a family, the familial bonds, they all stay the same.

India, just like every other country, has a very bad form of governance. The people are nice. It is from India, Gandhi was born. Guess where Buddha attained Nirvana? Fun Fact: Google Chipko movement.

But all this aside, we have indeed failed those widows. We will step up soon.

Good luck to you and may you have all the happiness in this world :)

Rafael L. Baron
Rafael L. Baron

If they were to stop child marriages to older men then perhaps this will reduce the number of Indian widows. That would be a start, in my opinion.

Jleslie Wroe
Jleslie Wroe

Matter of fact, even if you aren't an Indian, this can happen!

Richard T. Miller
Richard T. Miller

Thanks for the clear up! I know I shouldn't believe every thing I read!

BansalMishra
BansalMishra

Dasi is part of Hindu religion and culture, It is not easy to change.

Parry
Parry

The problem is there, but the title of the article does exactly what it is supposed to do i guess: make a generalisation big enough to catch the eye. Wonder if this is how a piece gets noticed in the 'World' section of Time.

Laura Paperkid
Laura Paperkid

In a country without safety nets, that's what can happen. If we get rid of them in the US, same thing could happen.

अजित अरिन्दम
अजित अरिन्दम

I'm a Muslim who believes in Darwin's Theory and adores USA (both are a crime among the people of my country, so I won't say more about myself). I need to warn you about a news network that will put America in danger. The news network is: AL JAZEERA AMERICA. Let me tell you first about the Arabic version of Al Jazeera. The Arabic version of Al Jazeera has been showing Americans as SATAN INCARNATE, as the enemies of Islam, as a nation that has no morality whatsoever (you've all been demonized). "America is not what you think it is. You've been brainwashed and taught that America is the land of free and opportunities. watch our programs and you'll know the horrible truth of this country." = is the message Al Jazeera has been delivering through its programs since its establishment in the mid 1990s. All Al Jazeera documentaries about USA (or the ones that mention USA) are basically anti-American, they systematically disvalue (undervalue) everything good USA does and focuses on every mistake USA makes. the channel links everything bad happens in the world to American capitalism and policies. Now the second part of my article. QATAR IS THE BIGGEST BACKER OF MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD (Please read this Wikipedia article and get to know their ideology http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muslim_Brotherhood). Qatar regime is known to be hugely sympathetic to Muslim Brotherhood and this has been reflected in Qatar's foreign policy. I quote from New York Times: "Qatar, host to the largest American military base in the Middle East, has also eagerly financed Islamists in Tunisia, Libya, Syria and Egypt, often siding with the Muslim Brotherhood or its affiliates, like Hamas" (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/11/world/middleeast/egypt-is-arena-for-influence-of-arab-rivals.html). I quote from Foreign Policy Magazine: "Qatar sees the Arab Awakening as an opportunity to spread Qatari influence through the establishment of Islamist governments that look to Qatar for support and guidance. .... In many places, this strategy has meant fostering a government made up of Muslim Brotherhood related groups that are beholden to their benefactors in Doha. .... Qatar probably assesses that the Muslim Brotherhood is the wave of the future in the Middle East, a movement that resonates with pluralities -- if not majorities -- in many Arab countries, despite its recent setback in Egypt. .... The former emir's record of supporting Muslim Brotherhood organizations throughout the region and the emirate's long-standing relationship with the influential Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated cleric Yusuf Al-Qaradawi have given Qatar an enormous advantage in cultivating alliances with emboldened Islamist groups throughout the Middle East."(http://mideast.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/08/28/the_qatar_problem). As everyone knows, Al Jazeera Network is Qatar's foreign-policy arm, and from my long experience I can assert that Al Jazeera's main objectives are: "Spread Muslim Brotherhood ideology throughout the globe" and "demonize USA at all costs". Here is another article to read:"‘We aired lies’: Al-Jazeera staff quit over biased Egypt coverage"(http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/jul/9/we-aired-lies-al-jazeera-staff-quit-over-biased-eg/). in this article from Washington Times, please read this part carefully: "He added that the channel’s (i.e. Al Jazeera's) management would instruct staff members to favor the Muslim Brotherhood. Journalist Abdel Latif el-Menawy, who was head of the Egypt News Center under ex-president Hosni Mubarak, said that Al-Jazeera was a “propaganda channel” for the Brotherhood.". "Al Jazeera’s Arabic-news station has an “apparent support of the Muslim Brotherhood” in its coverage, wrote Al Arabiya columnist and Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo Abdallah Schleifer earlier today. .... Following the overthrow of Brotherhood-backed President Mohammad Mursi, , 22 Al Jazeera staff members reportedly resigned last July in objection to the channel's editorial line. Following his resignation, Al Jazeera correspondent Haggag Salama accused the station of "airing lies and misleading viewers," in statements made to the UAE-based Gulf News. "(http://english.alarabiya.net/en/media/2013/08/21/Balanced-or-biased-Mixed-response-as-Al-Jazeera-America-goes-live.html). It should be obvious to many by now that Al Jazeera is a "religious news network", and the idea of Al Jazeera being impartial is a sick joke spread by those who are bribed by Qatar's regime. The AAAS, i.e. The World's Largest General Scientific Society, heavily criticized Al Jazeera for distorting scientific facts to forward a religious doctrine. you can read the article from AAAS magazine via this link http://blogs.sciencemag.org/origins/2009/10/apes-of-wrath.html) will Al Jazeera America be different from Al Jazeera Arabic ? I quote from Accuracy in Media Org (AIM Org): "the Arabic and English versions of Al Jazeera are paid for by the same dictatorship (i.e. Qatar's royal family), Even Hillary Clinton’s State Department admits that, adding that Qatar controls the news policies and personnel of the channel" (http://www.aim.org/aim-column/terror-tv-pays-al-gore-100-million-for-u-s-media-access/). Now, I'll quote from Al Arabiya channel article "Balanced or biased? Mixed response as Al Jazeera America goes live" (Al Arabiya is one of the most respected news networks in the Arab world): "Nawar, former president of the London-based media advocacy group Arab Press Freedom Watch, is now a member of the steering committee of Mohammad ElBaradei’s Dustour party in Egypt. Nawar said:"I warn that some form of extremism [could] be enticed in some of the Muslim Americans in the United States due to Al Jazeera’s selective and distorted coverage." In the end, Everything you need to know about Al Jazeera America can be found in AIM Org's website: http://www.aim.org/search/?cx=004572606133216989943%3Ao6bhvwaftm0&cof=FORID%3A11&ie=UTF-8&q=Al+jazeera&sa=Search ********** Be patriotic and repost this message on your wall ************

Sachi Mohanty
Sachi Mohanty

Not true 'universally' ... my mom is a 'widow' and she lives pretty independently and is not 'discriminated' against in any particular manner. Of course, *millions* of widows might be suffering still as "millions" are suffering in other ways ... ... female fetuses being aborted or girl children being discriminated vis-a-vis their brothers or ... ... millions of kids having to work to make a living instead of going to school or millions of kids suffering from diarrhea and other easily preventable diseases or ... ... millions and hundreds of millions of Indians not having access to basic sanitation or safe drinking water.

CrossWinds
CrossWinds

In a country where idol worship dominates the religious landscape, darkness and sin will rule the hearts of the peoples in abundance........for they worship demons unknowingly.......

..........Revelation 9:20..........
But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk........

.......Worship and Trust in Jesus, who lived and died on the Cross for you, and rose again.......

........Romans 8:2.......
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.

Deborah Pedersen
Deborah Pedersen

Until you admit the truth nothing will ever change, congratulations for prolonging the agony. Well done.

Deborah Pedersen
Deborah Pedersen

And all the people will lie and say it doesn't happen because they haven't seen it. They ignored it more likely. People that will defend their religion and culture at the expense of a human are disgusting and can't be trusted to tell the truth.

Ashish Kumar Mishra
Ashish Kumar Mishra

I will say that this author has not done honesty to the story fully ... In india widow marriage was started by mr rammohan rai in 18th cent .... Indas view n values r different from others ....its open so is closed .... I think the reporter was successful in presenting the story in more dramatic presentation then based on panindia facts .... I will request him to do more work before doing these type of stories

Shivani Tiwari
Shivani Tiwari

its not totally false...but nowdays it happpens more often...children should 1st learn to respect there parents then only they can give respect to others!

Spencer Mastrude
Spencer Mastrude

I would "guess" it totally is circumstantial based on the cast and the specific family and situation. In my opinion this story most likely has some truth, but may still be a bit generalized. Rachita Chandan please comment.

Bonnie Blake
Bonnie Blake

I have encountered widows in Varanasi in such situations.. Sad

Nicole Rees
Nicole Rees

This article although I haven't read it and wouln't Project it on Indian Society - should however also reflect how widows in other countries are treated. I have experiences and I tell you they are not good.

Abbas Brohi
Abbas Brohi

why don't you people accept the reality, even there is..... India has been called world's biggest democracy, and internally it is worse than dictatorship.....! there are lots of other things in India, which is against human rights, like killing Muslims, minority rights etc..... so don't be afraid to accept the reality.....!

Openminded1
Openminded1

What a backward country , So when a women's husband dies that is the women's fault and she is to be banished from her own family deserted by her sons and left to beg in the streets. No wonder so many Patels come to the USA and open motels and 7/11 stores. The life here is some much better then the poverty of India. Yet they come here with such pompous attitudes and think they are better then everyone else. What a joke . 

Bharat Joshi
Bharat Joshi

Time for TIME has changed because lately all time is giving are CRAP facts . . Indians believe in joint family ,and that is known universally..

Caesar J. B. Squitti
Caesar J. B. Squitti

You don't seem to worry about men and boys ? HUMAN TRUTHS CAN LIE ! Just a reminder, that some 25 years ago an anti-male, anti-father agenda was observed proliferating itself in Canada, that has spread to the USA, and now continues to polarize issues, and family through the misdirection of truths... More importantly these observations have isolated that their is an unknown negative side to Truth that has and can do a lot of damage. It works like this....'child abuse....'men who abuse, women and children victims', while the statement has some element of truth, it polarizes the issue, ignoring many forms of abuse, abuse by other children, self abuse and abuse of children by systems. Today we have many corrupt half-truths like Ms. Clinton's, let us support 'women and girls'...no mention of boys, of men, of family. The good news, is that these half-truths, human truths that lie, support the story of the deception of Eve by the devil...yes truths can lie, and no we are often not aware of THE TRUTH, for we are not God. Problem is that 'some' within the media would rather you not know these truths about Truth... based on the book, "The Caesar Squitti Code"...for those who are religious the book, is called, "The Jesus Christ Code". http://www.caesarsquitti.com

Shirani Rajapakse
Shirani Rajapakse

I've seen widows living in a home in Varanasi. They were dumped there by their families.

UnniN
UnniN

Indians tend to be quite touchy about criticism of their way of life and would rather pretend that iniquities do not exist than confront them head on and remove them. Maltreatment of widows is a real phenomenon especially in the northern heartland -- and as for the South not too long ago, in restricted enclaves of some communities, little girls of 10 or thereabouts were married off to little boys and should the boy happen to die while still a boy his widow the little girl had her head shaved and was condemned to remain indoors wrapped in a "Widow's garb" for the rest of her life! Even today in orthodox families a woman who has been raped is considered a pariah and ostracised as though she has become of no or low virtue. Condemnation of any one pointing out these facts is the instant reaction amongst us and it is one reason why these social maladies continue. One reason we have not abolished caste and continue to refer to it in every government document and educational institution. Matrimonial columns always mention the precise caste that the groom or bride should belong to.... The Khaps continue to commit "honor killings" of their children if they marry outside their caste! 

Sexual perversions are rampant and rape even of little children (how on earth could one even anatomically manage that in a 4 yr old beats me but it happens) happen. Any newspaper will tell you that every day. A lot of this falls on our collective blind spot and outrage us when highlighted by someone else. When Naipaul wrote that Indians defecate everywhere there was outrage...but just walk along the highway in the city of Mumbai (nee Bombay) and see them in full view lined up on the verge on either side. Is this so hard to erase for a determined government or a determined society? 

This is not to say that things are great in the "West" as far as social or family bonds are concerned...they are abysmal. But we are not comparing wickednesses here. 

Emran Hossain
Emran Hossain

Yeah,that's true indeed.They're just proud like air balloon but nothing in their hearts.

Blue-lark
Blue-lark

At least India against rape!India is very wise ,they will find their way to survived !

spraman
spraman

@CrossWinds Hi cross winds who is this idiot here talking stupid revelations... having a foreign donkey god. Who are you here in this forum man?

apnair15
apnair15

@Openminded1  

understand your frustration but a country is not made up just of Patels!

Openminded1
Openminded1

@apnair15 @Openminded1 It seems so from what is seen here in the U.S. i realize that is not case. I do wonder how immigration keeps track of all the Patels in the U.S. I think it is a phony name used by most of them. I think there is a region in India that called Patel and they chose that to make saying there names here easier. If that is the case that could be a nightmare for immigration that does not seem to care.