Bench asks government to reach out to the women, think of an immediate alternative

The Supreme Court on Wednesday set up a seven-member committee to look into the deplorable conditions of “widows/destitutes” living in Vrindavan and set an eight-week deadline to complete its report.

The committee, headed by the chairman of the Mathura District Legal Services Authority, will prepare a list of the widows with their names, age and reasons for being in Vrindavan (whether abandoned or of their own volition), whether there is any piece of property in theirs or their husbands name and the names and addresses of relatives in possession of the properties.

The court also asked the government to think of an immediate alternative, pending the exercise, to provide for women who do not have any shelter and are wandering on the streets.

There were some deliberations by the Bench on whether the term “widow/destitute” or just “widow” would be apt before finally settling on “widow/destitute” as the lawyer appearing for the National Legal Services Authority, the petitioner, emphasised that there were also many unmarried women who shared the same plight of abandonment in Vrindavan.

The plight of these forsaken and unfortunate women was first brought to the attention of the National Legal Services Authority by The Hindu in August last in an article, “Prayers in Penury.” The article provided an in-depth view of the countless problems faced by the women. The government schemes barely covered their survival costs; some of them did not even have access to any of the schemes, eking out a living by singing bhajans at ashrams, with three hours of singing fetching them a mere Rs.3. Health was another issue, with most of the widows being over 60 years.

The National Legal Services Authority then directed the Mathura District Legal Services Authority to conduct an enquiry about these widows. A plea was then instituted in the Supreme Court seeking that it direct the State of U.P. and the Centre to provide for the widows.

The Supreme Court also asked why the U.P. government had not filed its response. State's counsel said it could not do so due to a “paucity of time.”

Other members of the committee are a representative from the National Commission for Women, U.P. Secretary for Social Welfare and Secretary for Women and Child Development or their nominees, District Collector, District Medical Officer and Senior Superintendent of Police in Mathura.

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