Bodies taken away by sweepers, cut into pieces and disposed of in jute bags

The bodies of widows who die in government-run shelter homes in Vrindavan are taken away by sweepers at night, cut into pieces, put into jute bags and disposed of as the institutions do not have any provision for a decent funeral. This, too, is done only after the inmates give money to the sweeper!

This shocking fact has come to light in a survey by the District Legal Services Authority (DLSA) on the “Plight of Forsaken/Forlorn Women — Old and Widows Living in Vrindavan and Radius.”

Taking cognisance of a report published in The Hindu on August 11 on the plight of the widows living in Vrindavan in Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh, Justice Altamash Kabir, Executive Chairperson of the National Legal Services Authority, had asked the U.P. State Legal Services Authority to survey the conditions of the women.

The terms of reference also included ascertaining whether there were peculiar family circumstances which led to abandonment of the women by their families or children which was actionable under Section 24 of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007.

The report, a copy of which is available with The Hindu, has recommended that the District Magistrates be directed to protect the property and property rights of these women. It wanted them to take necessary steps to restore the property to the destitute women in accordance with law which would facilitate their return home and enable them to lead a dignified life.

It has also suggested that legal aid clinics be set up to generate awareness among these women about various Acts and their rights and provide assistance wherever needed.

The District Legal Services Authority in its report quoted Mithilesh Solanki, a widow living in Swadhar Mahila Ashray Kendra, Chaitanya Vihar (Vrindavan), to reveal the “sorry state of affairs and disheartening fact that sweepers take away the dead bodies in the night, cut them into pieces and dispose them of in jute bags.”

The institution, started by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2006 and run by a non-governmental organisation Akhil Bharatiya Maa Sharda Samaj Kalyan Samiti, does not undertake the responsibility of arranging funerals.

Similar conditions prevail in another residential institution established by the U.P. Mahila Samaj Kalyan Nigam — the only of its kind run by the State government under its Meera Sahbhagini scheme.

The report, prepared by Sapna Tripathi, ACJM and Vijay Bahadur Yadav, chairman (DLSA) and district judge, Mathura along with some other members is based on personal interaction with the widows and the data provided by the government and non-government agencies. The official figures provided by the District Probation Office and Social Welfare Department at Mathura puts the number of abandoned women in the entire district at 3151 — a large number of whom were shunned by their conservative and orthodox families in certain parts of West Bengal and persuaded or even forced by the family members to live a ‘sacred widowed life' in Vrindavan after the death of her husband.

In most cases widows are denied remarriage even after the death of their husband in childhood or young age. While some are forced to leave the marital home and native place by the family members just to avoid maintenance in old age and bearing the burden of a non-productive family member, many others leave their homes due to physical and mental torture.

The report details the plight of these women, some of whom get a monthly pension of Rs. 300 and a measly quantity of food grain and sugar which is woefully inadequate for survival. As a result, they are forced to beg and sing in temples from where they can earn two or three rupees a day.

The living quarters are unhygienic with little or no facilities for toilets and drinking water. Medical facilities are only on paper. But due to lack of education, the women are often deprived of the paltry sum they are entitled to under the National Social Assistance Programme, Antodaya Scheme and Food Money Scheme as the funds are often pilfered.

Recommending setting up of sufficient shelter homes with proper facilities, the DLSA report said the Centre and the State governments are expected to fulfil the basic needs guaranteed by the Constitution and protect the human rights of the widows. It has also suggested proper audit of the funds received by the NGOs and private charitable institutions.