Mothers: The Widows of Vrindavan

 
 

There are approximately 34 million widows in India. In the traditional view, they are physically alive but socially dead. They were expected to die before their husbands or along with them. Most of the widows experience deprivations and discrimination on a daily basis, not least of which include suffering from severe depression because of isolation and the absence of emotional and social support.

Widows are socially stigmatized and must forego all forms of make up and symbols of marriage or femininity. Traditional superstitions mark them as inauspicious. That is why widows are banned from some religious ceremonies and weddings (sometimes even of their own children’s wedding ceremonies). Widows’ access to resources typically ends with the demise of the husband. A lot of them are not able to support themselves and become economically and socially dependent on their children, who often face problems in sharing their resources with their mothers. In many cases, the mother becomes a burden and is consequently abandoned.

Although the Constitution now guarantees widows certain rights, this is often obscured by lack of information. Widows are often not aware of their legal rights, nor could they afford a lawyer to assist them. Sometimes widows even subordinate themselves under customs, for the sake of the family harmony, and forfeit their inheritance to their children or in-laws. Living in oppressive environments, some widows come to the holy city of Vrindavan in order to devote themselves to Lord Krishna and find salvation and peace. But even here some depend mainly on begging, singing devotional songs and charity.

Fortunately, there is a change happening in the attitudes of people regarding widows, particularly in urban India. The exodus of widows to the holy city of Vrindavan has slowed to a trickle, with more and more widows opting to stay with their children, who are running double income homes. Many widows, if they opt to come to the holy cities, are also doing it out of choice, seeking a life dedicated to spirituality.

Non-governmental organizations are taking measures to empower widows. These organizations run shelter homes and capacity-building centers, where widows are taught skills and are given the comfort of food — at least one warm meal a day — medicine, tap water, and shelter, so they do not fall victim to exploitation on the streets. But still the need for improvement is huge and interventions are few. Change is taking place, but slowly.

Sascha Richter Le is a photographer from Berlin, Germany. 

Mothers: The Widows of Vrindavan
Besaki Dasi (75) on the way from her Ashram to beg in the streets. She came to Vrindavan 35 years ago.
Image Credit: Sascha Richter Le
Mothers: The Widows of Vrindavan
Being victims of rejection and discrimination, most of the widows depend mainly on begging, singing devotional songs, and charity to survive.
Image Credit: Sascha Richter Le
Mothers: The Widows of Vrindavan
Vrindavan is home to approximately 22,000 widows, who come here seeking for peace and salvation.
Image Credit: Sascha Richter Le
Mothers: The Widows of Vrindavan
Kali Kund (75) married at the age of 18. Her three sons and one daughter abandoned her after the demise of her husband, 14 years ago.
Image Credit: Sascha Richter Le
Mothers: The Widows of Vrindavan
Sushila Pal (76) became a widow at the age of 26. She came from West Bengal to Vrindavan 20 years ago. She has no children and no one to look after her.
Image Credit: Sascha Richter Le
Mothers: The Widows of Vrindavan
Widows gather together for devotional singing. In local ashrams they find shelter, community, and are provided with at least one warm meal a day.
Image Credit: Sascha Richter Le
Mothers: The Widows of Vrindavan
A devotional ceremony in an ashram. Widows come to the holy city of Vrindavan in order to devote the rest of their lives to Lord Krishna and find salvation (moksha) and peace.
Image Credit: Sascha Richter Le
Mothers: The Widows of Vrindavan
Most of the widows' only purpose in life is devotion to their god. They seek salvation and hope for a better future in one of their next lives.
Image Credit: Sascha Richter Le
Mothers: The Widows of Vrindavan
Bani Mukharji has three children who abandoned her. Now she is living in an ashram in Vrindavan. Even though widows are expected to wear mainly white clothes, the color that symbolizes death and their asexuality, she still has an affection for clothes and possesses many dresses.
Image Credit: Sascha Richter Le
Mothers: The Widows of Vrindavan
Danwanti married her husband (then 25) at the age of 15. After three years of marriage, her husband died from malaria. Fifteen years ago she left behind everything and came to Vrindavan. She has one son and one daughter. She loves to sing devotional songs to Krishna. Here, she holds a portrait of her guru.
Image Credit: Sascha Richter Le
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