Be it the land of Krishna or Shiva, the plight of the widows is the same in Vrindavan and Varanasi, both holy towns of the country.
Krishna Devi, a Nepali, was just a 9-year-old girl when she was married to a 35-year-old man. By the time she realized what marriage meant, her husband had died. Krishna Devi was just 18 then.
That was the end of her life. After her parents passed away, she came to Varanasi to seek shelter in the abode of Lord Shiva and has been living in a women’s shelter home here for over two decades now. “I never thought of re-marrying. It was not done then. I am in the shelter of my parents [Kashi Vishwanath] and need not worry,” she says.
In the same Birla ashram lives Savitri Sharma. She has four daughters and one son back home in Rajasthan. “The daughters are married and cannot keep me. My son has been living with his in-laws for the past 30 years and does not bother about me. I stayed with my brother-in-law and sister-in-law as long as they were alive. Then my daughter took me to her house but she was not financially sound, so one day I decided to spend the rest of my life in Varanasi,” she told The Hindu, even as she massaged her knees that have been giving her trouble for many years now.
Seven years have gone by since Savitri Sharma came here. Her daughters call her sometimes but son could not be bothered. “We do get some government relief of Rs. 300 per month, but it comes irregularly. There are no doctors and private treatment is difficult.”
A little away from this shelter home is a Nepali old-age home where only Nepali widows live. And just a few kilometers away in Sarnath, a government-run old-age home houses close to 60 elderly women. But not all are widows. “Some are here because their families cannot support them. After they are unable to work, they think they are a burden on the society and come here. Some of them do work like making garlands and necklaces or incense sticks and send the money home to support them financially, particularly if the husband is alive,” explains Anita Pal, in charge of this old-age home.
But, unlike in Vrindavan where widows have nothing to do with colour, inmates here do not dress in white and are not excluded from social engagements except due to poverty. “Society has changed. No one expects widows to be in white,” says Anita who has been looking after the women for the past four years.
The issue of widows in Varanasi is different from that in Vrindavan, where they are more or less institutionalized and giving grant is easier. Here they are scattered, with some living in government homes, others in private accommodation and even others in groups.
Sulabh International on Sunday adopted the widows of Varanasi and identified 150 widows who would be given Rs. 2,000 per month. “It is a good initiative and the government would provide full support to this,” Pranjal Yadav, District Magistrate of Varanasi, said.
Mr. Yadav said there was a need to get a survey done of the widows living in the districts, as well as good non-governmental organisations, which could be used for implementing the welfare schemes. “The need is to streamline the system,” he said.