All five ashrams are gearing up for the Festival of Lights

This Diwali will light up the lives of widows at Vrindavan, ending decades of darkness and social apathy.

Traditionally kept away from social gatherings and auspicious celebrations, these abandoned, aged women — most of them widowed in childhood — will now happily celebrate the Festival of Lights.

These aged widows have been abandoned by their families or have fled their inhospitable homes, to make Vrindavan their home — their last destination.

For the first time, Diwali celebrations will take place at the century-old widow shelter Meera Sahabhagni Ashram from October 31 till November 3. The women themselves are arranging and painting thousands of earthen pots for the event.

All five widow ashrams at Vrindavan are being decorated with lights. The celebrations will include firing crackers and a cultural programme planned by the enthusiastic women.

During the last one year, Sulabh International, breaking tradition, helped widows take part in a series of rituals and thus join the mainstream of society. “Sulabh will continue with its nationwide campaign,” said Bindeshswar Pathak, founder of the social service organisation that has been asked by the Supreme Court to look after the welfare of these women after taking cognisance of a report in The Hindu highlighting their pitiable conditions.

Early this year, hundreds of widows celebrated Holi with colours and flowers. The spirit of Holi pervaded the five government-run shelter homes, where Sulabh has been giving a monthly stipend of Rs. 2000 to each of about 1,000 widows and arranging for food and healthcare. These women also celebrated Durga Puja by flying to Kolkata.

Dr. Pathak said, “Our NGO is actively participating in preparing a road map to eradicate this age-old practice of ostracism of widows. In fact, I always think that widowhood is life imprisonment for these widows.” At Varanasi and Vrindavan, hundreds of widows lead an isolated life to attain moksha . Living in small rooms in narrow alleys, they spend most of their time praying, and looking for food in the absence of family support.