By Swapna Majumdar
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
The Indian temple town of Vrindavan continues to attract widows facing the traditional ostracism of village life. Many say they prefer to live on less than $1 a day than to go back to the families who cast them out.
The widows have plenty to eat, the study finds. More than 70 percent of them eat the Indian staple diet of rice, chappaties (Indian bread), dal (lentils) and vegetables three times a day.
But many have no shelter. One-third live on the streets, railway stations and bus stops, forced to face the harsh summers and winters without adequate protection. About two-fifths said they had no access to toilets, having to squat in the open.
The majority of the widows were found to be illiterate, which has hampered their ability to access entitlements such as widow pension, ration cards for subsidized rice and other government schemes benefiting women.
But the widows' attitudes about themselves and their future is starting to change. The study finds that some have stopped shaving their heads, many are wearing pastel-colored saris and some younger widows are open to the idea of remarriage.
It is this freedom that prompted one of the widows to use the Internet and 'Google' her way to a widows' home in Vrindavan.
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Swapna Majumdar is based in New Delhi and writes on gender, development and politics.
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