When her husband died of illness a few years back, Savita’s in-laws, relatives, and villagers forced her to wipe kumkum, snatched her mangalsutra, and banged her hands against the wall to break bangles. After her husband’s death, Savita was banned from participating in festivals and asked to stay away from marriages and any christening ceremonies. The trauma of her husband’s death and the treatment she got, still haunts her . 

But, she is not the only one who has suffered from widowhood.

To support and encourage women like Savita in society, the Gram Panchayat of Herwad village in Kolhapur district approved a resolution to end the widowhood tradition. The Panchayat members declared that no one should force widows to stop applying kumkum, putting on bangles or wearing colorful clothes; the villagers must also not ban them from attending marriages and christening ceremonies. 

Official resolution 

Following the Herwad resolution, some other villages have adopted similar resolutions. On Tuesday, the State government’s Rural Development Department strengthened this progressive move by Herwad village and issued an official government resolution. 

“Today, we are in the 21st century, living in a scientific and progressive society. However, evil traditions like widowhood still prevail. Society follows evil traditions like wiping kumkum from the forehead (of the widow), breaking her mangalsutra and bangles, and removing rings from her foot fingers. These women are not allowed to participate in religious and social programmes. Because of these evil practices, the person’s right to live with dignity and her constitutional rights are taken away. These women have every right to live with dignity and such evil practices must be eradicated,” states the resolution. 

The department has asked government officials to encourage Gram Panchayats to approve resolutions to end the evil practice of widowhood and to create awareness in the villages.         

Society’s outlook 

Osmanabad-based activist Sunanda Kharate — who works with widows and abandoned women — says that society needs to change its approach toward widows and treat them as human beings. Life is not easy on any front for a widow.

As per the 2011 census, there are 5.6 crore widowed persons in India. Women outnumber men, accounting for nearly 78 per cent of the total widowed population. Between 2001 and 2011, 89.71 lakh widowed persons were added. The census data show that 0.45 per cent of the total widows are child widows who fall in the age group of 10-19 years. About 9.0 per cent are in the age group of 20-39 years, 32 per cent are in the age group of 40-59 years, and 58 per cent are above 60 years.

“The State government has taken an affirmative step. We don’t know how much this will help, but at least this is the beginning of something that will give us hope,” said 50-year-old Lata, whose husband has succumbed to a prolonged illness.