Unhappy with the distribution of money to widows at Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, Guild for Service, a non-governmental organisation, has decided to file a public interest litigation petition in the Supreme Court seeking a ban on such practices, which, it said, converted women into beggars.

“Why should widows be converted into beggars instead of rehabilitating and empowering them to live with dignity,” asked Mohini Giri, founder of the Guild.

She was speaking at a national consultation here on “Widows: Denial and Deprivation of Rights from Private to Public Policy Realm.”

Ms. Giri, who has been running a home for widows and abandoned women in Vrindavan for several decades, said the petition would seek rehabilitation and empowerment rather than doling out money.

According to Ms. Giri, about 50 women arrived in Vrindavan last week only to take “money without working.” “Several women even in my shelter home want cash now,” she said.

Sulabh International, a non-governmental organisation, gives Rs. 2,000 a month a person to over 700 widows residing in five government-run homes following a Supreme Court directive that asked Sulabh to ensure health, food and provision for dignified last rights were given to them.

While begging on the streets and the number of women going to ‘bhajan ashrams’ has substantially come down, doling out money has come with a different set of problems, as women, who could be trained for skills, now preferred cash for hard work.

Spelling out the steps taken by the Union government in empowering women, Planning Commission member Syeda Hamid said multisectoral efforts were needed to help them. “Instead of criticising the government for not doing enough, let us help women.” Finance Minister P. Chidambaram had announced Rs. 200 crore for widows and single women in the Union budget. He had asked the Women and Child Development Ministry to formulate a scheme for empowering women through skill development and financial empowerment.

The deep-rooted problems of widows and their children in many parts of the world have negatively affected various economic, social and cultural factors. These women lack access to inheritance, land tenure, water and sanitation, health care, education of children, employment and livelihood in addition to social safety net. These widows and their children also face hunger, malnutrition, child labour, loss of schooling, illiteracy and trafficking.

In India, different forms of widowhood are increasing besides religious/traditional orthodox Hindu widows. These are conflict, agrarian and child widows.

In the north-east, there has been an increase in two kinds of widows due to conflict and HIV and AIDS. A study says that between 2004 and 2010, nearly 8,000 were killed due to insurgency in four States, leaving behind young wives and children

Women were also affected by communal violence in 1983 in Nellie, 1984 in Delhi, 1993 in Mumbai, 2003 in Gujarat and in Kandhamal in 2007-08.

Every form of widowhood brings in deprivation, psychological downfall, emotional stress, denial of due inheritance rights, sexual harassment, physical insecurity and social undesirability. This is further aggravated by the restrictions imposed on their lifestyle and negative social attitudes towards them. Though national schemes and programmes offer them some help, it’s time these widows are made key beneficiaries in the policy framework.