Sulabh International comes to the rescue of Vrindavan widows

Aarti Dhar
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The NGO announces free dinner, facilities for dignified cremation, distributes Rs.500 as grant at shelter home

Women gather around to receive cash from Sulabh International founder Bindeshwar Pathak at a shelter home in Vrindavan.— Photo: V.V. Krishnan
Women gather around to receive cash from Sulabh International founder Bindeshwar Pathak at a shelter home in Vrindavan.— Photo: V.V. Krishnan

It was exactly a year ago that The Hindu wrote about the plight of abandoned and destitute women, particularly widows, in Vrindavan, prompting the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) to file a social justice litigation with the Supreme Court and directing the Mathura District Legal Services Authority to conduct a survey of these women.

On Sunday, when Sulabh International — one of the two NGOs chosen by the apex court to come to the rescue of these women — went to Vrindavan to announce free dinner for those living in government-run shelter homes and facilities for dignified cremation, it almost resulted in a stampede with the inmates scrambling to receive Rs. 500 each, distributed by the group’s founder, Bindeshwar Pathak.

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

The entry of “outsiders” provoked 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 the one-time grant of Rs.500 after ensuring that their name was registered for receiving regular dinner.

“From Monday, every woman in government-run hostels will receive Rs.25 a day for dinner. No woman will sleep hungry,” Mr. Pathak told a group of journalists. Whether the women would be given cash — so that they can cook their own food — or provided with 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 asked the NALSA to contact Sulabh to find out whether they could come forward to help the 1,780-odd widows living in four government shelters.

The NGO will also speak to the local authorities to fund the construction of an electric crematorium.

Mr. Pathak said capable widows would be motivated to undergo vocational training so they can earn a livelihood. “Sulabh will arrange training and provide employment to able-bodied widows.”

Asked about those in private shelter homes and those without shelter, he said the process had just started and would eventually cover as many as possible. The organisation would arrange for 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.”

The Supreme Court recently directed the Uttar Pradesh government to ensure that proper last rites were performed to the Vrindavan widows as per their religion after a report by the Mathura District Legal Services Authority suggested that at some places, the bodies of the widows were being cut into pieces to be disposed of by sweepers as there was no provision for cremation at these homes.

While most women seemed indifferent to the proposals, others said many rich people did come to the ashrams every now and then 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 even as she fought to find a place in the queue.

  • Regular health check-ups to be organised for the inmates

  • In time, Sulabh will seek help from Centre, States, corporate houses

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