It was exactly a year ago that The Hindu wrote about the plight of abandoned and destitute women, particularly widows, who take shelter in Vrindavan, prompting the National Legal Services Authorities (NALSA) to take action. It filed a social justice litigation before the Supreme Court for ameliorating the pitiable condition of these women and directing the District Legal Services Authority of Mathura to conduct a survey of these destitute women.

On Sunday, when Sulabh International - one of the two non-governmental organisations chosen by the Apex Court to provide help to these unfortunate women-- went to Vrindavan to announce free dinner for those living in government-run shelter homes and facilities for a dignified cremation, it almost resulted in a stampede with the inmates scrambling to receive Rs. 500 distributed by the founder of Sulabh International Bindeshwar Pathak.

A good meal with ‘jalebi’

The corridors of Swadhar Mahila Ashray at Chaitanya Vihar-11 which presented a serene look last year with the inmates preferring to keep to themselves suddenly became riotous as women from the nearby shelter homes also turned up to receive the money and enjoy a good meal which included `jalebi.’

The entry of ‘outsiders’ evoked anger among the residents of this hostel who came out of their rooms to guard the premises. It took a while before the situation was brought under control and women-both from this ashram and others – were made to queue up to receive a one-time grant of Rs. 500 after ensuring their name was registered for receiving regular dinner.

“From tomorrow every woman in government-run hostel will receive Rs. 25 per day for dinner. No woman will sleep hungry,’’ Mr Pathak told a group of media persons who had accompanied him to Vrindavan. Whether women would be given cash so that they cook their own food or whether they will be provided pre-cooked food would be decided by Monday when Sulabh shoulders the responsibility of providing a decent dinner at four government-run shelter homes.

In a recent order, the court had asked the NALSA to contact the Sulabh International to find out whether they could come forward to help the 1,780-odd widows living in four government shelters at Vrindavan.

Proper last rites

Sulabh International will also speak to the local authorities to fund the setting up of an electric crematorium where these women could be given a dignified cremation.

With his vast experience in the field of low-cost sanitation and social upliftment of the manual scavengers, Mr Pathak said capable widows would be motivated to undergo vocational training so that they can earn their livelihood. “Sulabh will arrange training and provide employment to able-bodied widows,” he said.

On being asked about those in private shelter homes and those without shelter, Mr Pathak said the process had just started and would eventually cover as many as possible. He said the organisation would arrange regular health check ups for the widows.

“Right now we will start on our own, but at the same time we will approach Central as well as State governments and big corporate houses for help. The idea is to ensure a dignified life to the widows,” he added.

The Supreme Court had recently directed the Uttar Pradesh government to at least ensure that proper last rites were performed to Vrindavan widows as per their religion after the DLSA Mathura report suggested that at some places, the bodies of the widows were cut to piece for disposal by sweepers as there was no provision for cremation at these homes.

We need respect, dignity

While most women seemed indifferent to the proposals, others claimed that many rich people did come to the ashrams off and on to distribute alms and cash. “What we need is respect and dignity. We can forgo one meal but cannot be fighting with each other like cats and dogs for just Rs 500.

“Getting photographed while receiving money is so disgraceful,” an inmate said as she made a futile attempt to find a place in the queue.