News / Asia

Indian Widows Break Tradition

Widows throw flowers into the air during a holi celebration at the Meera Sahavagini ashram in Vrindavan in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 24, 2013.
Widows throw flowers into the air during a holi celebration at the Meera Sahavagini ashram in Vrindavan in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 24, 2013.
Anjana Pasricha
In India, hundreds of widows participated in a Hindu festival for the first time in decades in a town where many women take shelter after the death of their husbands. It is seen as an important symbol of ending centuries of oppression of widows.   

For decades, thousands of widows, who are abandoned by their families, have headed to the pilgrim town of Vrindavan, about 150 kilometers east of New Delhi.  

Shunned women

As per tradition that is still followed by some, Hindu widows are considered inauspicious or unlucky.  As a result, in many homes, they are treated like outcasts and are ostracized by their family and community and not allowed to participate in any celebration. Many are turned out of their homes.

Thousands of these shunned women leave their towns and villages to live in shelters in Vrindavan, which has come to be known as the city of widows. Life is not easy for these destitute widows. Dressed in white - the color of mourning in India, they are often seen begging.

Breaking tradition

But this year, hundreds of widows in Vrindavan broke centuries of tradition, when led by social activists, they stepped out of their shelters to participate in the festival of Holi. Holi is a riotous celebration when people come out into the streets and throw colored powder and water at each other.

  • Widows celebrate by throwing flowers and colored powder into the air during a Holi celebration March 24, 2013. Holi, also known as the Festival of Colors, heralds the beginning of spring and is celebrated all over India.
  • A widow dressed as the Hindu goddess Radha looks out from behind a curtain during a Holi celebration at the Meera Sahavagini ashram in Vrindavan, in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, March 24, 2013.
  • Widows throw flowers into the air during a Holi celebration, March 24, 2013.
  • A widow dances in a dormitory during Holi celebrations at the Meera Sahavagini ashram in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, March 24, 2013.
  • A boy covered in colored powder poses with a group of widows during a Holi celebration, March 24, 2013.
  • Widows raise their hands as they throw flowers into the air during a Holi celebration, March 24, 2013.

Earlier, they could only play ‘Holi’ with god Krishna, the main deity in the holy town. A social reformer from Uttar Pradesh, Shravan Kumar Singh, who played Holi with the widows on Sunday, says they felt old barriers had come crashing down.  

Singh says many of the women had tears in their eyes when they came out to take part in the revelry. He says many people in the town also appreciated the efforts to reintegrate them in society.

Celebrations - rehabilitation

The Holi celebrations were organized by Sulabh International, which last year launched a rehabilitation program for widows in five government-run shelters. This involves giving them education, vocational skills, health care facilities and an allowance of $40 a month to ensure that they have enough food.

Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh, also joined the celebrations. He says bringing the widows back into the social mainstream has given them a new lease of life.  “When I came last, in August 2012, everybody used to say 'no, we want to die now. We don’t want to live more.' Yesterday when we celebrated Holi, they all said, no, no, no, we want to live, they are forgetting the past,” he stated.

Sulabh International began work in Vrindavan last year after the supreme court took note of the poor conditions under which the widows live and stressed the need to ameliorate their plight. The Vrindavan widows have become symbols of centuries of oppression of women who lose their husbands.

You May Like

IS Militants Release 49 Turkish Hostages

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency reports that no ransom was paid and no conditions accepted for the hostages' release; few details of the release are known More

Photogallery IS Attacks Send Thousands of Syrian Kurds Fleeing to Turkey

Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says more than 300 Kurdish fighters crossed into Syria from Turkey to defend a Kurdish area from attack by the Islamic militants More

Video Sierra Leone's Ebola Lockdown Continues

Thousands of health workers are going door to door in the West African country of 6 million, informing people of how to avoid Ebola, handing out soap More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’i
X
Jeff Seldin
September 20, 2014 10:28 PM
Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Fears Ebola Outbreak ‘Beyond Our Capability to Contain’

Each day brings with it new warnings about the deadly Ebola outbreak already blamed for killing more than 2,600 people across West Africa. And while countries and international organizations like the United Nations are starting to come through on promises of help for those most affected, the unprecedented speed with which the virus has spread is raising questions about the international response. VOA's Jeff Seldin has more from Washington.
Video

Video Iran, World Powers Seek Progress in Nuclear Talks

Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5 + 1, have started a new round of talks on Iran's nuclear program. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports that as the negotiations take place in New York, a U.S. envoy is questioning Iran's commitment to peaceful nuclear activity.
Video

Video Obama Goes to UN With Islamic State, Ebola on Agenda

President Obama goes to the United Nations General Assembly to rally nations to support a coalition against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria. He also will look for nations to back his plan to fight the Ebola virus in West Africa. As VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports, Obama’s efforts reflect new moves by the U.S. administration to take a leading role in addressing world crises.
Video

Video Migrants Caught in No-Man's Land Called Calais

The deaths of hundreds of migrants in the Mediterranean this week has only recast the spotlight on the perils of reaching Europe. And for those forunate enough to reach a place like Calais, France, only find that their problems aren't over. Lisa Bryant has the story.
Video

Video Westgate Siege Anniversary Brings Back Painful Memories

One year after it happened, the survivors of the terror attack on Nairobi's Westgate Shopping Mall still cannot shake the images of that tragic incident. For VOA, Mohammed Yusuf tells the story of victims still waiting for the answer to the question 'how could this happen?'
Video

Video Militant Assault in Syria Displaces Thousands of Kurds

A major assault by Islamic State militants on Kurds in Syria has sent a wave of new refugees to the Turkish border, where they were stopped by Turkish border security. Turkey is already hosting about 700,000 Syrian refugees who fled the civil war between the government and the opposition. But the government in Ankara has a history of strained relations with Turkey's Kurdish minority. Zlatica Hoke reports Turkey is asking for international help.
Video

Video Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

The International Whaling Commission, meeting in Slovenia, has voted to uphold a court ruling banning Japan from hunting whales in the Antarctic Ocean. Conservationists hailed the ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid