What being a Widow in India means ?

Widow is a woman who has lost her spouse. “Widowhood is a situation of social demise of the husband,” says Mohini Giri, a veteran activist in the fight for Women’s rights and a widow herself, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize 2005. She explained that many conservative families see widows as a liability. 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 that is around as same as the entire population of South Africa and Tanzania. There is no sole concept with respect to widowhood, it is subjected to diverse experiences, varied inter personal and social implications and various changes in the life of women across varying cultural settings.

Since the dawn of civilisation, innumerable thoughts, beliefs, and rituals grew up around this phenomenon. All major religious faiths of the world clearly spelt out specific codes of conduct and ethics regarding their views and attitude towards widows.For instance, Islam explicitly forbids the mistreatment of widows. This sounded the death-knell of pre-Islamic Arabian culture wherein great emphasis was laid on procuring virgin brides. On the other hand, widows and their children were shabbily treated. After the divine revelation of the Holy Quran, the issue of widows came to the forefront. Owing to the numerous wars fought between the Muslims and the non-Muslim Arabs (whose bastion was Mecca) thousands of soldiers (a bulk of them were married men) were martyred. As a result, there was a spurt in the number of widows and destitute.In the ancient patriarchal world of the Bible, widowhood ushered in hardships and penury since women of those times were not financially independent. Throughout the Bible an undercurrent of compassion is palpable. Widows’ remarrying was commonplace.In ancient India (or Vedic period), women had high esteem in the society. They availed the right to education, and liberty in the right of choice of the spouses (Swyamvar). In respect of widowhood too, the norms were flexible enough.

A widow had several options like Sahamaranathat is, voluntarily joining the dead husband on his funeral pyre. There was also the process of Niyog: a procedure through which a widow could conceive another man’s child if she desired to do so and thereafter spend the rest of her life nurturing the child, alternatively she could also opt for Brahmacharya that is rigid celibacy where she ceases perform any sexual activity. She also had the option of finding another spouse of her choice.But during the later Vedic age and the early medieval era, the sublime status of women went on a downslide. In the opinion of 2000 year old text by Manu, the Hindu primogenitor of mankind: “A righteous wife is one who after the death of her husband constantly remains chaste and reaches heaven though she has no son. ”Traditions like ‘widow-burning’ or Sati framed the patterns of social behavior of Hindu society for widows.

The conduct towards them turned to be extremely unjust and sadistic. Conventionally, the widow was held responsible for her husband’s death. Even the shadow of a widow was believed to inflict depredation and brought ill luck. It was also believed that once her husband died, the wife should pronounce all comforts of home. She should wear a plain white sari as a sign of lamentation. The appearance of widows at rituals, ceremonies and celebrations was considered unpropitious. Those coming from orthodox families, in some cases, even shove the woman’s head after the death of husband. This was particularly done to make the widow sexually unattractive, so that no man is attracted to her or she never gets married.

‘Widow-burning’ or Sati  was terminated during the British rule and in 1856 the British validated widow remarriage in India. It has been 72 years since independence, despite all of the advancements; still widows lead a dejected and miserable life in many towns of India. Widows in India, no longer throw themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands, but life for them can still be deprived. The experience of widowhood varies across customs and time periods. They are still subject to patriarchal traditions, religious legislations and extensive prejudice in inheritance rights. Many families of different communities in India still eschew and abandon widows. In general, widowhood in India is a very insubstantial period in the life of a woman, underlined by notable impoverishment, lack of family support and a prominent risk of mortality.

Nobody can quite explain why these particular towns like Kashi ,Vrindavan and like others  attract widows around India. Some come as genuine worshippers to commit their remaining years to the service of Baba Vishwanath or Radha-Krishna, but many others come here to get away from barbaric family homes as they are considered as unwanted baggage. Some of the widows here lead a disgusted life as they have no one to look after them and they have to engage in practices like begging and prostitution for maintaining a sustainable livelihood. The Supreme Court of India after taking into consideration of media reports of their discreditable living conditions in these towns ordered the government and civic agencies to ameliorate the lives of women in Vrindavan. The Uttar Pradesh government has also initiated to appoint a panel to collect data on the socio-economic conditions of widows.

Child widows are those young girls who have endured both child marriage and widowhood before the age of eighteen. They have undergone multiple violations of their human rights from very young age. Being widow at the tender age, they lack ingress to justice and are manipulated by various persons. Rights are provided by our government for safeguarding them.

Laws made for the protection of Widow’s Rights:-

  • Hindu Widow’s Remarriage Act  – The Widow Remarriage Act of 1856 “All rights and interests which any widow may have in her deceased husband’s property shall upon her remarriage cease; and the next heirs of her deceased husband, or other person entitled to the property on her death, shall there upon succeed to the same.” However, this Act has been repealed. Under the provisions of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956, widows who choose to remarry do have a right on their deceased husband’s property.The Bombay High Court (HC) ruled that a widow who remarries does not need to give up her right over her deceased husband’s property. This came to the fore when a man (brother of the deceased) relied on Section 2 of the Widow Remarriage Act 1856 (quoted above) and asserted that his sister-in-law who had remarried should not be allowed to inherit her former husband’s property. However, the HC ruled that she still is grouped under the Class-I heir of her deceased husband and should inherit.
  • Hindu Widow’s Claim Over Husband’s Property – Where immovable property was purchased by a Hindu widow in possession as such of the estate of her dead husband out of the income of the estate, such property does not necessarily become an accretion to the husband’s estate. The widow has full power to dispose of it during her lifetime, and it is only when she manifests during her lifetime a clear intention to treat it as an accretion to her husband’s estate, or allows it at her death to remain undisposed of, that such property will become part of that estate.A Hindu widow in possession as such of her husband’s estate is not liable to account to anyone but is at liberty to do what she pleased with the property during her lifetime, provided only that she does not injure the revision. The widow of a separated Hindu succeeded as such to the business of her deceased husband carried it on for a series of with reasonable prudence on the same lines as it had been conducted in his life time. The business was that of a banker and money lender and involved from time to time.The purchase and resale of immovable property. It was held that as regards immovable property not inherited from her husband but purchased in the course of the business by her, the widow was competent to sell again outright without proof of any legal necessity being requisite, the ‘legal necessity’ being that the property was sold in the course of a business which was entitled, if she chose to do so, to carry on. Neither was it, in individual instances, a proof of absence of ‘legal necessity’ that the property was sold for less than the widow had paid for it.In the event of a man dying with more than one widow, the widows could invoke law for acquisition and partition of property, which was not a mere struggle for their share for maintenance. Their right to informally partition the estate amongst themselves was recognized by the Court.Whatever limitations there may be upon the power of alienation of one of the two Hindu widows succeeding as such to a life interest in their husband’s estate, so long as the property remains undivided; there is nothing to prevent them from affecting a partition of such estate.Although Hindu widows taking a joint interest in the inheritance of their husband has no right to enforce an absolute partition of the joint estate between them, yet where the widows cannot go on peaceably in the enjoyment of the property they could by mutual agreement or otherwise separately hold the property, although they have no right to partition in the proper sense of the term, and the share of one will go by the right to survivorship, to the other notwithstanding the separation.

In India, the widows have a need and concern to procure a decent living and become goal-oriented. Widows, especially in the early days, had suffered a lot in fact widowhood had become a stigma on them. Although now as the world is developing the minds of the people are also developing, but today also when you visit any rural area widows still face the same old problems. They do encounter several issues, but most of their problems can be mitigated by bearing the expenses on their own, by acquiring employment opportunities, by getting occupied with farming and agricultural practices, by providing education to the children, by battling for their rights, by building up an autonomous household, by creating social circle through acquiring membership in the local women’s organizations, etc.

Earlier there was no culture for widows to remarry. But now also there are various reasons because of which widows do not communicate their willingness to remarry. It is crucial to start gauges that would prompt the prosperity of the widows inside the nation. There is a necessity to produce more possibilities and open doors for the widows to come out of their houses, set up something for themselves, create golden chances that would lead to their strengthening, and rebuild their personality with confidence and self-respect. There is a need to produce more chances for the general public and policymakers to listen to the worries and problems of the widows.

References : https://www.probono-india.in/blog-detail.php?id=172

                     http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-4098-rights-of-a-hindu-   widow.html

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

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Misuse of Section 295A – Part 3 – Aishwarya Sandeep

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