Today I came across a law that made the children of widows deserving of maintenance from the in-laws of the widow. The law stated that along with the widows, their kids too should be taken care of by the in-laws. However, the law made me wonder about reality. How much does this law translate into reality? Even though the law holds widows and now their kids capable of proper maintenance, why is the reality different?
As per the judge’s statement, “The 1956 Act is a beneficial legislation enacted in order to take care of the destitute daughter-in-law who, on account of unfortunate circumstances, becomes a widow. The word “widow” would include the minor grandchildren who are staying with their mother". The judgment was made by Punjab and Haryana High Court while dealing with a case in which the judgement of a Family Court of providing 2000 rupees to a widow’s children for their maintenance was challenged.
While the judgment is a ray of light among the plight that widows in our country face, it still doesn’t ensure their safety and security. In our society, widows are considered impure and are refrained from attending anything that embodies happiness. And this includes a family, home, parties or weddings. Moreover, a woman’s value ends when her husband’s name is removed from her life. She is valued only until she is married and connected to a family.
The plight of widows in India
These are the reasons why widows have become a disadvantaged group in our society. Widows are not only refrained from dressing up elegantly but also from seeking their desires or starting a new life. A widow is not allowed to be around a child, let alone seek love from a man. If you have watched the movie Colour starring Neena Gupta, you must be aware of what I am talking about. In the movie, Neena Gupta’s character was shamed and consequently killed just because she had started applying nail polish, and colours and interacting with the girl child. Widows are shamed as witches, man-eaters and unholy shadows. In some communities, widows are made to shave their heads, drink the bathwater of their husband’s dead bodies and forced to have unprotected sex to cleanse themselves of the sin of killing their husbands.
According to United Nations, India is home to 42 million poor widows out of the 115 million in the world. Vrindavan which has 20,000 widows is considered the city of widows. Most of these widows are children who are married off at an early age. Widows are deprived of their basic rights, dignity and safety. They are subjected to social exclusion, exploitation and abuse. Many are blocked from their right of inheriting family property which further leads to their deprivation.
Widows account for 9 per cent of the women in India, approximately 34 million women and still, this group is ignored and exploited. After the husband’s death, a woman’s value is decreased and she succumbs to social death as they are ignored and blocked from all the rights that normal human in our society enjoys.
Would it not be right then to say that being a woman and a widow in our society is a punishment? While widowers don’t face any such discrimination or social exclusion. In fact, they are still considered a potential groom who has property and a job.
Why is society so unkind to widows? Why are widows so vulnerable despite having various legal rights to their name? Does the death of a husband render a woman incapable of respect and dignity? Is a woman’s life valuable only if she has a husband?
It is high time now that we start including widows as a special group in our society. In our society, women are usually unemployed when they get married. And when they become widows, their financial empowerment further degrades with their social value. Discrimination against widows should be declared a crime as is any other discrimination in our society. Women, especially, need to be respected because they lack security and safety in general too. Then you can imagine how worse it can get for widows. Provide respect, dignity and rights to widows because they are humans too. It is not a crime to lose a husband. It is as normal as losing a wife.
Views expressed are the author's own.