Shades of WHITE

Pradeep Chamaria
Saturday, 28 October 2017

This year, Diwali brought new colours in the lives of the widows of Vrindavan. This writer-photographer tells us why...

It was a special Diwali for me this year as I attended a historical event — remarriage of a young widow at the four-centuries-old Gopinath temple in Vrindavan. A brave young man came forward to extend a helping hand to a 20-year-old young widow whose husband had perished in the devastating floods in Kedarnath temple area in the year 2013.

For me, this visit was an eye-opener. Vrindavan, we have read, was the place where Lord Krishna spent his childhood. During my previous visits, I used to give some money to the widows begging on the streets near the Banke Bihari Temple. But this time, the scene was different. While attending the remarriage, I saw more than 500 old and young widows — most of them clad in white sarees, exhibiting happiness and hope as they attended this function and participated in Diwali celebrations after the marriage.

It’s a real pity that the colour ‘white’, on which you can add and splash other colours, changes into a curse as soon as it is on a saree. In our small towns, the white saree is the traditional attire of a widow in India, which distances her from all other colours. A widow has to undergo all this and other hardships because she is considered inauspicious, and is forced to live a horribly austere life.

Well, for over 200 years, Vrindavan near Mathura has played host to a large number of widows from Bengal and other states, abandoned by their families following the death of their husbands. These young and old women are forced to live in extreme misery, at times facing starvation.

They pass their days singing bhajans in temples for which they earn a paltry sum of Rs 8 a day, not enough for even one meal. Many resort to begging on the streets or squatting or lying on the steps outside the temples. Often clad in rags, when they breathe their last, there is nobody to take care of their cremation even.

I was deeply pained to learn all this, but there have been some heartwarming developments recently. The Supreme Court of India asked the National Legal Service Authority (NALSA) to connect with Dr Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh International Social Service Organisation and also National Commission for Women (NCW) panel. As a result of their combined efforts, we  can now see some betterment in the lives of the widows living in Vrindavan.

This year the festival of lights illuminated many lives and brought great rejoicing and hope for me as well as for hundreds of old women facing the curse of being a widow. Their faces were lit up, just like the diyas lit everywhere in the courtyard of the temple. I also forgot all my miseries when I saw so many brightly lit eyes and happy faces.

Removing the age-old curse through the remarriage of a widow and lighting of diyas by the widows themselves was a perfect way of celebrating Diwali.

For the widows present at the marriage, this was their Diwali celebration. “Her marriage is a message for the society that believes that a woman’s life ends when she becomes a widow,” said Manu Ghosh, a 90-year-old widow in Vrindavan.

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