5 April 2013 | by The Petticoat Journal | VRINDAVAN
It looks like a festival of colour and sound here. A hall full of women showering flowers and singing merrily! Who can tell that just less than a year ago, the lives of these women were as white and dull as the clothes they wear. Now, it’s less than a year since life smiled at them and the white widows of Vrindavan are already seeing colours perched on their shoulders.
They have reason to celebrate just like any human being would. Manu Ghosh tells The Petticoat Journal, “Earlier we spent our day begging or singing bhajans for alms. We ended up getting Rs 6 by the end of the day everyday or some food if we were lucky.”
As if such misery was not enough in life, it haunted them in death too. Pratibha Sharma of DALSA tells says, “For much over a decade, we kept getting reports that dead bodies were found near railway tracks on the outskirts of the city. The bodies of widows were stuffed in gunny bags and given to scavengers. The scavengers were paid to do the unholy job of carrying the bodies and disposing them off.” She says that as part of our enquiry, when we asked the ashram administration how they stuffed a five feet body in a gunny bag, they said without a concern, “We just stuff the bodies in somehow. The bones and body parts break but that doesn’t matter.”
Manu Ghosh spends her time praying throughout the day. “If it was not for Him, I won’t be here. I would have been at the mercy of this cruel world which took away my family from me,” she says standing at the entrance of the small temple in the dormitory of the ashram where she lives.
In August 2012, the Supreme Court directed the non-profit organisation, Sulabh International, to adopt the widows of Vrindavan. Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, Founder of Sulabh tells The Petticoat Journal, “The first thing I ensured was that no widow here would ever to go to bed hungry from now on.” Secondly, he sanctioned a stipend of Rs 1,000 per woman per month. “Later, we realised that this amount was too less to take care of even the very basic needs of a person. So, the stipend was increased to Rs 2,000 per month,” says Dr Pathak.
With the income ensured, the women had no reason to go out and beg or work to make money. But they couldn’t have spent their day doing nothing. So, some vocational courses like sewing, agarbatthi (incense stick) making, and even writing and reading were introduced.
Ask 80-year-old Anandamayi her name. She will tell you. If you understand Bengali, you will be able to interpret her accent. But this reporter had some difficulties. So, Anandamayi simply found a place to sit, rolled open her small cloth packet, took out the chalks, and started writing on her slate. First it was in Bengali and then in Hindi. She wrote her name in the most beautiful handwriting. She could have easily won the world’s calligraphy competition had she not been rendered unlucky by life.
Most women have stayed here for three to four decades. “Younger women come to Vrindavan but prefer to stay outside the ashrams because of the many restrictions here,” says Deepika Singh, warden of Meera Sahbhagini Mahila Ashray Sadan. Some join the ashrams later if they wish. However, there are some young women too here. Like the 35-year-old Vasna Maa. She is a qualified nurse and is now desperately looking for a job. She is not a widow. She had lost her family in an accident. The ashrams in Vrindavan admit destitute women as well at times.
News media platforms may not be inclined towards promoting an organisation through articles, but it will be difficult for us to avoid this very important bit of conversation with the widows who came to Vrindavan to spend the rest of their lives praying to Lord Krishna and Radha. When asked what had all the praying given them but a life like this, all the widows of Vrindavan said, “We prayed and Sulabh came to us. Sulabh is God-sent!” No wonder that every month, the ashrams are drenched in flowers when the organisation’s founder and his team visits.
Dr Pathak says, “My next step is to change the tradition that forces the widows to wear white. They have all the right to don the colours that nature created for human beings.”
Most definitely, it’s a new life for women who had given up on life.
all photos by: Shruti Kohli
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