A space where I keep you up to date with news and ponderings about widows in the developing world.
ON INTERNATIONAL WIDOWS DAY, THERE'S A NEW WAVE RISING!
International Widows Day. June 23, 2022
A wave of hope is building along the western coast of India. Hope that a new day may be dawning for widows.
In an ancient culture where for centuries women have suffered all sorts of indignities and deprivations when their husband dies, now there are village councils in both the States of Maharashtra and Goa that have recently passed resolutions condemning and banning the customary treatment of widows.
It started with the Times of India reporting (May 5th) that the village council of Herwad, a village in the Kohlapur district of Maharashtra, had unanimously passed a resolution banning all “widow customs”.
This would include the customary forcing of widows of any age to remove all colorful clothing and jewelry, take off their “mangal sutra” – the necklace which would be equivalent to a wedding ring in western cultures – eat only bland food, and avoid festivals and family celebrations because as widows they are considered bad luck.
Some widows would be confined to living in virtual isolation. Sometimes the social shunning would extend even to the unthinkable: adult children abandoning their widowed mother in one of the cities in northern India where thousands of widows live, spending their days chanting the praises of Lord Krishna, in the hope of ensuring a better reincarnation for themselves.
But Herwad village sees it differently.
In recent months twelve of their young women were tragically widowed through Covid… and the villagers realized how inhumane it would be to force these young women to endure a living death for the rest of their lives.
A social activist, Mr. Pramod Zinjade, had been advocating for some time for widows to be treated as equal and honoured human beings. His influence in the village, as well as the villagers’ compassion for the young Covid widows, motivated the village council to take the unprecedented step of banning the traditional customs.
It was like a dam beginning to crack (if you’ll forgive the change in metaphor)…
On the same day the village council in Mangaon, also influenced by Mr. Zinjade, passed a similar resolution. And by May 18th the media reported that the Maharashtra State government had begun to strongly encourage all local governments to follow suit.
By May 25th four villages in Kolhapur district had passed similar resolutions. Then on May 28th the Times of India headline read “34 Kolhapur Villages to Ban Widow Rituals”.
The wave then spread to the neighboring State of Goa, and on May 29th two village councils in that State enacted bans on customary widowhood practices.
After the vote one male member of the council wisely pointed out that passing resolutions by council is not enough... people's mindset must be changed through education and through economic empowerment of the widows.
On June 11th The Indian Express reported that all 29 village councils in
Khadakvasla district, and as many as 50 in Pune district in Maharashtra, had
passed similar resolutions.
By June 17th at least 8 villages in Goa had
passed resolutions banning customary widow practices.
of India talked about the motivation of one of the village councilors:
"Panchayat member Divya Naik is presently working on mobilizing women in
her locality to host an awareness meeting on June 23 to commemorate International Widows Day. Naik, who
herself shunned widowhood practices after the death of her husband two years
ago is now actively working with WE - The Movement, spearheading the cause of
equality, equity, justice and life of dignity and respect to widows."
Mr. Pramod Zinjade, whose persistent
efforts have been a catalyst for this wave, continues to lobby the members of
the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly. So far he has written to and personally
contacted over 200 of the legislators, urging them to bring in legislation to
ban all traditional widowhood practices that demean and dehumanize a widow and
make her a social outcaste.
Mr. Zinjade and those who share his vision
are committed to seeing widows included as equal and honoured members of Indian
society – at least in one State.
The wave is gathering momentum, and will
surely wash over other Indian states. Because where Maharashtra leads, other
States are sure to follow.
On this International Widows Day, let’s
send a blessing to those village councils and social activists who have caught
the wave. Let’s celebrate new hope for widows in Maharashtra and in Goa… and
expect to hear of many other States in India overturning the dehumanizing
customs of centuries.
Today we remember…
the many who fought and made the ultimate sacrifice. We wear the poppy. We
stand in silence as we honour their memory. We listen to stirring poetry and hymns, to bugle and bagpipes.
But what of the
widows? Who remembers them?
Today I'm borrowing a blog from Ambreen Zaidi, an army wife, whose recently published book The Warrior Widows tells the stories of many war widows. She says it better than I ever could.
A journey with my warrior widows
My book dedicated to the valiant wives of the soldiers of Indian armed forces, who were killed in action on duty, is finally out. Since, the day one when I joined my husband as a newly wedded wife, I have had felt a deep pain and anguish whenever there was a discussion, a welfare program, or a visit to these ladies of the area. Being a soldier’s widow is a nightmare for every woman who marries a man in uniform. With death looming large from every nook and corner, you cannot help but gather your grains and stand steadfast beside him. No matter how much you are crumbling within, with fear and anxiety.
I used to scribble my notes, whenever I met such lady, but my actual writing process began almost three years ago, when a friend lost her husband in CI Ops. One story led to another, one brave woman to another. Some were willing to talk, some weren’t. Some were from very interiors of the country and had no idea about the entire tragedy except for the fact that “Mera pati, watan ke liye shaheed hua hai.” Financial assistance was something with which the respective units helped but it was the emotional well-being which took a back seat. The ladies themselves had no idea. The stigma attached to widowhood, the rituals, the patriarchal set up of the households made things more difficult. There were ladies who were thrown out of their houses and left to fend for themselves and were now fighting court battles, for what was rightfully theirs. There was bitterness, love, compassion and unending questions to the God, the system and to the society.
Was it her fault that she became her soldier’s widow?
Does it matter whether he was a battle casualty or a physical casualty?
No. Death matters!!
Her husband’s death matters.
But only to her.
For everyone else she is either a trophy to be used at glamorous patriotic events or a money minting machine in the name of a trust or an NGO. And she is soon forgotten.
Her pain, her trauma, her problems are no one’s business. It’s her battle and her battle alone. A battle she must win, for herself, for her children and for the supreme sacrifice of her husband.
Shouldn’t the nation support her in this battle of hers?
Or is she made to be disowned?
Even my journey was not an easy one. Getting in touch with these ladies, finding their address and contact details, umpteen trips to the Sainik Welfare or other govt offices, sometimes for my story and most of the times for the issues these ladies were fighting for and had no help at all. During one such interaction, with one of the supposedly respectable and well-known person, I was told, “I cant help you with your war widows, why should I? I never asked their husbands to go and die.” It felt like a tight slap on my face.
Being a soldier’s wife myself I never imagined someone would ever utter such a gutter language. All his façade of well versed, well respected, patriotic human being with the heart in the right place came crumbling down. I never called/approached/interacted with that man ever. Yes, I did give him a nice piece of my mind, exposed his fake image that he used to gain popularity & respect. But he is not alone, there must be many like him. I am sure. That’s why our widows and families of the soldiers who make the supreme sacrifice have to face so many difficulties, post the tragedy. But it did not end there. Once the book was near completion, I started approaching the top publishers for getting it published, most of them refused, citing the topic to be not-commercially viable, one person agreed, only if I am able to get blurbs and quotes from celebrities, “Else, Ma’am, who would want to read about them,” he asked.
I started to question myself-
Are people really so money minded?
Is patriotism only reserved for 15 th August & 26 th January?
Is soldier only meant for TRPs when he dies, and his family means nothing?
Is this protectiveness about the families and the urge to help them only in the people from the army background?
I stopped writing for a couple of months and then poured out my heartache on social media. Helped came from many quarters and I chose a publishing house, which was run by retired army officers, because my heart was not ready for any more stabbings.
And these guys who themselves have donned the uniform, will never utter rubbish on our soldiers or their families. I then thought of approaching a well know figure, who was well versed in Defence matters to write a foreword for my book. And eventually thought of showing my manuscript to the serving Defence Minister Shri. Rajnath Singh ji, he immediately loved the book, the topic, the chapters on warrior women featured in it. A few weeks later, I received a beautifully penned and encouraging message from him, which is also a precious part of my book.
A debutant author shunned by the top publishers, an army wife working passionately for the families of our soldiers, humiliated by cheap money minded cretins, now has her book published and the book is available to amazon. And I hope it does well, so that people who think, soldiers are mere expendables get a tight slap back on their faces.
Veer Bhogya Vasundhara.
You do it every year… buy presents for the Him in your life or the Her, for the kids, the grandkids, for Great Aunt Maud and Uncle Chester, for the schoolteachers, for your son’s latest girlfriend…
And every year it’s a job you’re glad to get finished. Whew! That’s done for another year! It’ll only take till June to pay off the credit card…
But do they really like what I bought them? Did I buy the right designer label? Does she already have that video game? Is he getting tired of black socks every year?... And can someone remind me what’s the purpose of this annual exercise?...
How about changing it up this year?
How about making 2021 the year when you and your family get to make Christmas really meaningful? By giving (and receiving) presents that remind us of what it’s all about.
Here’s my idea: give presents that will make a big difference in the life of a widow – and her children.
Like Fatima, a widow
in Afghanistan, who says no one offered her any help after her husband, a
policeman, was killed in a clash [with the Taliban] four years ago.
“Our life is very
bitter,” she said inside her one-room mud house near a graveyard... “We often
go hungry. I go out and beg or send my children out to beg,” she added. “We
don’t have anything — clothes, food, or rent.”
Or like “Mrs.
Li” who lives in rural China. Her husband died 30 years ago of leukemia –
because they couldn’t afford treatment.
She had three
children - a daughter who was killed in a car accident, and two adult sons who
live elsewhere and don’t do anything to help her.
she doesn’t have enough money, she eats only vegetables – no
meat. Sometimes she eats only salt. She bought a rope ten
years ago, so she can hang herself one day if she cannot take care of herself
any more or if she gets sick.
These are just 2 of over 150 million widows in our world who live at a level of poverty you and I can’t even imagine.
Thankfully, there are thousands of them who are being empowered with entrepreneurial skills so they can earn a viable income.
That’s where you and I come in.
Why not include some of the beautiful things they’ve crafted in the gifts you give this Christmas?
Like elegant infinity scarves and gossamer tunics from the widows of India?
Or earrings made of heavenly lapis lazuli by widows in Afghanistan?
How about giving a special gift donation in honour of one of your family, when you browse the gift catalogues of charities who fight for widows’ rights, or who bring extra assistance to widows hard hit by Covid restrictions? Who rescue widows from sex trafficking and slavery, or who help widows set up viable businesses?
Why not buy from the many online shops of grandmothers across Canada who raise money for the grannies in South Africa – the ones who single-handedly are raising their orphan grandchildren?
Or gift someone with a movie or a book that tells a widow’s story?
Gift-buying this way means you are making a profound impact on the lives of widows, and you’re giving your family and friends gifts they will never forget. Because in this way you get to become part of the solution, part of the way in which these destitute widows are able to create a new and hopeful future for themselves.
Sounds closer to the real meaning of Christmas, doesn’t it?
Here are links to the sites that will give you unique gift-buying opportunities. Enjoy browsing!
The White Rainbow Project https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/WhiteRainbowProject?ref=profile_header
TAPS Afghanistan Hope Project https://shop.taps.org/collections/afghan
Women for Women International https://gifts.womenforwomen.org/?ref=WBMD21041B
Stephen Lewis Foundation https://grandmotherscampaign.org/marketplace/
And for those who are buying for someone who loves books or movies, check out this page for some ideas. https://www.empoweringwidows.com/widows-stories.html
A widow woke up this morning in rural Africa (or India or Southeast Asia or Latin America or Europe... ). She didn't know that today (Oct. 15) is the UN International Day of Rural Women.
Nor did she know that tomorrow (Oct. 16) is World Food Day. Or that October 17th is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
And if she knew?
Maybe she would dream...
... that someone powerful would come to her hovel today and tell her she was getting back the land that had been stolen from her when her husband died... and the farming tools... and the goats...
Ah, that would let a rural widow know that people in power cared about her situation!
And then maybe tomorrow, because it's World Food Day, they would bring a big basket of food to her hovel... enough for her children and her to eat for several days...
And then on the Day for the Eradication of Poverty... Oh my, someone from the government would bring her a bag of money!
Then she wouldn't have to sell her daughter in marriage to that older man next month. And she could afford to send her kids to school again. She'd always dreamed of her son becoming a lawyer. And her daughter becoming a doctor.
Abruptly she shakes herself awake. It's nothing but a dream. Her reality is the same today... and tomorrow... and the next day... no matter what the UN proclaims.
So she stumbles wearily outside to dig up the roots from the plot of grass next to her hovel where the village goats graze. It's all she has to feed her kids. Same menu, different day.
But thanks to the many NGOs and charities who work tirelessly for rural women, her dream will come true.
Because one day she'll be invited to join a group of widows who will learn skills to start small businesses. And she'll be invited to join a small savings and loan circle that will support its members to move out of poverty into sufficiency. And she'll learn with other widows how to advocate for justice for themselves.
Yes, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the UN does great work to help rural women grow more food and market it successfully.
But the ones who are making the biggest difference in the lives of rural widows -- making the eradication of poverty and of food insecurity more than a dream -- these are the NGOs and charities who are invested at the grassroots level.
Read about the vision of some of these amazing organizations at https://www.empoweringwidows.com/widows-support.html.
Read stories of widows whose dreams are coming true because of the programs offered by these organizations.
On International Day of Rural Women, on World Food Day, and on International Day for the Eradication of Poverty we salute you -- the widows and the widows champions.
The destitution and stigma experienced by widows in the developing world is shaped by each region's or country's age-old cultural traditions.