Invisible Women, Invisible Problems
Vinod Chandrashekhar Dixit
June 23rd marks International Widows’ Day-and the United Nations outlines just how fraught the life of a widow can be. To become a widow is to experience profound personal tragedy. For many women around the world, the devastating loss of a partner is magnified by a long-term fight for their basic rights and dignity. Despite the fact that there are more than 258 million widows around the world, widows have historically been left unseen, unsupported, and unmeasured in our societies.The ordinary term for a widow in India is “Vidhwa” which originates from the Sanskrit word “vidh” which means “to be destitute”. There are around 55 million widows in India.
It is well known that in India widows tend to face many difficulties and deprivations because of negative social attitudes towards them and social restrictions that are placed upon them and their activities. Indian family as a social institution is well known for the emotional and physical support that it providers, for its extended members, many a time but it fails to respond the needs of women, especially for women in difficult circumstances e.g. for widows.
The widows are the unacceptable face of India, many leading agencies including Central and Local Governments have failed them, Politicians with rare exceptions have ignored them and wider society continues to exploit them.
As widows move through their own experiences of grief, loss, or trauma after the death of a spouse, they may also face economic insecurity, discrimination, stigmatization, and harmful traditional practices on the basis of their marital status. It is observed that a widow from a relatively well-up family may be subject to greater cruelty and abuse by her in-laws than a lower caste widow who free enough to work outside in the public space and to remarry. It is well known that in India widows tend to face many difficulties and deprivations because of negative social attitudes towards them and social restrictions that are placed upon them and their activities. They are subject to patriarchal customs, religious laws and widespread discrimination in inheritance rights. Many suffer abuse and exploitation at the hands of family members, often in the context of property disputes. Many widows have flocked to the city of Vrindavan – a city that has become internationally recognised. Many continue to hold myths and stigmas against widows. Sometimes, widows are believed to be witches who have dark supernatural powers. On other occasions, they are accused of having committed a grave sin in their previous birth for which they are punished with widowhood. A widow not only deals with the loss of her husband but also faces numerous physical and socio-economical hardships that can cause psychological trauma. These women are susceptible to depression, anxiety, loneliness, helplessness, and loss of self worth and confidence. Empowering widows to support themselves and their families also means addressing social stigmas that create exclusion, and discriminatory or harmful practices. The stigma surrounding widows endures today and ought to be addressed. It is undoubtedly good that governments, NGOs, and other entities are working to support widows – but there is a broad societal need, one no less than a moral and social imperative, to end the stigma surrounding widowhood.