Context:

  • The Supreme Court sets up panel to prepare common working plan to rehabilitate widows in India by November 30, 2017.

Current scenario:

  • As per recent census, 0.45% of total widows are child widows in the age group of 10-19 years. 9.0% are in the age group of 20-39 years, 32% in the age group of 40-59 years and 58% are above 60 years.
  • Despite a law banning child marriages, there are still 1.94 lakh child widows in the country.
  • Widows choose to come to holy places like Vrindavan to escape social ostracisation, but only to fall into a mire of indignity and beggary.
  • Thus, the government condemned the modern-day stigma against widows and has been setting up a committee of experts to study reports collected by the court during the past decade and come up with a plan to rehabilitate the hapless widows of Vrindavan and other ashrams by November 30, 2017.

Proceedings so far:

  • The court highlighted reports which recommended widow remarriage.
  • One of the suggestions by the report is Aadhaar-enabled software to identify widows when they enter as inmates of Swadhar homes.

Regressive customs in India:

The permanence of death may be daunting for the family that loses a loved one. But no matter how overwhelming it is for the family, it is far worse for a widow in India. We’ve come a long way since social ills and cultural tradition burdened society through its utter absurdity, and yet many parts of the country still uphold regressive customs when it comes to widowed women.

Inheritance Rights:

  • Majority of Indian Widows are deprived of their inheritance rights
  • Although the ” Hindu succession Act’ 1969 made women eligible to inherits equally with men and some individual states have legislated equality provisions into inheritance law, widows are mostly deprived of their legal rights.

Untouchability

  • Even today, several villages in northern India exclude women after their husband’s demise. The widows are stripped of their wealth and dignity, and condemned to a life of beggary and abject poverty.
  • Most are considered ‘untouchables,’ and it is still believed that even their sight or slightest touch can bring bad luck to a person on the receiving end.

Solitary confinement

  • In several Hindu and Muslim households across the country, widows are confined to their homes, and sometimes even their rooms, without any interaction with the outside world.
  • While some are made to adopt this solitary life for a few months, many are made to go through the rest of their lives in isolation and society-inflicted shame.

Abstinence

  • The most common practice upheld even today is the confinement of a widow to a life of abstinence.
  • Once a woman is widowed, she is forbidden from remarrying. In towns such as Vrindavan and Varanasi, widows from the town and neighboring villages are sent to homes or ashramsdemarcated for them where the women coexist in solidarity but are confined to a life of prayer and solitude.

Illiteracy

  • According to a report by the National Commission for Women, 80% of these widows are illiterate.
  • They are unaware of the widow pension plans by the government.
  • Thus, their illiteracy and oppressed social state is further used by the religious authorities

Government initiatives:

  • In British period some social reform movements took place regarding the condition of women.
  • Ishwar Chand Vidyasagar, Raja Rammohan Roy and other social reformers fight for them in which some are as follows:-
  1. Sati Prohibition Act (1829)
  2. Child Marriage Prohibition Act (1929)
  3. Widow Remarriage Act (1856)
  4. Hindu Property Inheritance Act (1937)

In the modern day context, even though these laws are strictly enforced by the constitution, still there are instances of injustice to widows in the country. Thus to curb them completely, the center has come up with the following initiatives:

  • The Supreme Court on 18th July, 2017 asked the Centre to frame scheme to promote widow remarriage and bring them in mainstream society.
  • The court also asked the Centre to update its National Policy for Empowerment of Women to make provision to impart training to widows so that they become competent enough to earn themselves instead of depending on grants.

Suggestions:

  1. The real voice for change must come from within the society, and the first step would be a change of the superstitious mindset that deprives widows of their right to live.
  2. Leaving aside societal stigmas, economic problems could be addressed to some extent by formulating welfare schemes for widows.
  3. Also, the Center must try strict enforcement of the laws that already exist to ensure women’s rights.
  4. Only about 28 percent of the widows in India are eligible for pensions and even among them less than 11 percent actually receive their dues.
  5. Education is the driving force to eliminate ignorance and hardships of the widows in India and worldwide.
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