Seven Inhuman Customs That Make The Lives Of Indian Widows Go From Bad To Worse

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Widow customs India: For Indian women, losing their husbands is more than just daunting. Despite coming a long way from the time when social evils dominated society, Indian widows still have to abide by dehumanising practices. These practices not only turn them into social outcasts but also affects their lifestyle on a day-to-day basis.

Losing you partner is traumatic ordeal for any person. What anyone needs during this time in their life is the support of those around them- their families and society, that softens the blow to their life. Instead Indian widows are constantly reminded of their loss, directly or indirectly, for the rest of their lives- and told that there is no chance for them to have a “normal” life.

Why do we continue to subject women to atrocities and shame they if they reject such oppressive practices? Why can’t we create a society that focus on rebuilding a bereaved woman’s life, rather than trapping her in a chasm of trauma and suffering for the remainder of her life? There are nearly 40 million widows in India and the number has gone up drastically due to the ongoing COVID-19 tragedy. It is high time that we rethink these our stance on these practices and liberate these women from the unnecessary restrictions we have imposed on them.

These are seven widow customs women are expected to follow on their husband’s departure

1. Abstinence from wearing bright colours and ornaments

The most common of all widow customs followed in India includes abstinence from wearing colourful clothes, especially bright colours and ornaments. On the death of her partner, a widow is often forced to remove all her ornaments, especially those seen as ‘symbols of marriage’, such as bangles, vermillionmangalsutra, toe ring, etc. In addition, she is given a white saree which she has to wear for the rest of her life. White is considered to be a colour of mourning.

Today in many parts, widowed women can were light pastel colours or simple clothing. However dressing up, wearing ornaments or makeup is frowned upon and will earn widows a disapproving gaze from those around them.

2. Identity renouncement

Not just physical, on widowhood, women also go through psychological abuse. Those around them constantly remind them of their widow status, and widowhood ends up becoming a big part of a woman’s identity. But what else can we expect? In our society, a woman’s qualifications, paycheck and capabilities seldom hold any value in comparison to her marital status.

3. Untouchability and Confinement

Several widows living in Northern India are ostracised. In religious households, widows are confined within their rooms. Some women follow this custom for a few months while others do so throughout their lives. When interacting with outsiders, they cover their face because they are considered as “ill omen”. Even a sight or touch of widows is believed to bring bad luck.

4. Staying away from celebrations

This is also the reason why widowed women are asked to keep away from wedding rituals and any other form of celebrations. There are many celebrations exclusive to married women in our country, like Haldi Kumkum which are discriminatory against widowed and unmarried women.

5. Leading a life of abstinence

A woman who has lost her husband is refrained from having a lover. Though the Hindu Widow Remarriage Act legalised the remarriage of Hindu widows in 1856, a widow is expected to marry out of obligation towards her family or children, not by choice of love. She is expected to have no urge for physical or emotional intimacy. In some families, it is a custom for widows to marry another male relative- their husband’s brother or cousin, an alliance fixed by their family. Do widowed women get to have a say in these decisions? Or are they forced down on them? Or are they conditioned to believed that such alliances are being made in their best interest?

6. Abandoning nonvegetarian food

We find Indian widows giving up nonvegetarian food and food items that contain spices, onion, or garlic. This is because such edibles are said to be aphrodisiac. That is, they are believed to stimulate sexual desires and a widow is supposed to stay away from such desires. Another reason is that nonvegetarian food is relatively expensive and widows are expected to live a frugal life- so spicy food or non-vegetarian food is seen as an indulgence.

7. Living in shelter homes

In towns such as Vrindavan and Varanasi, widows are sent off to shelter homes. Though women co-exist in solidarity in such ashrams, they are confined to a life of prayer and solitude. They beg alms and sing hymns in temples to earn a living. The total sum they earn at the end of the day is meager and does not benefit them.

As we move one step closer to development, let us shun all such regressive and inhuman widow customs. Let us attempt to protect the basic human rights of widows and stop punishing them for something they are not responsible for.

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