Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar (26th September 1820 - 29th July 1891), a compassionate scholar and reformer, had championed the cause of widow and widow remarriage in India. He was pained to see the glaring discrimination meted out to them in the name of daily rituals of 'purity' and 'cleansing.' The position of these unfortunate women were pitiable, whose heads were shaven, made to wear red or white sarees without ornaments and eat single meals. Those who were prevented from performing 'Sati' ( an ancient Indian tradition of the immolation of a widow on her husband's pyre), led even a deplorable life, reduced to that of hardship and austerity.
Today, more than a century later, the apathy and insensitivity toward widows remain unchanged to a large extent. Even today, they suffer alone,being abandoned by their family and left to live under miserable conditions.
But things are looking brighter now and are set to change, all thanks to the efforts by a young girl.
Jyoti Yadav, a 13-year-old, from Alwar district, Rajasthan, had seen her mother, a widow, suffer incessantly at the hands of the villagers and family, from a very young age.
She witnessed her mother being ostracized by the villagers and was not allowed to leave the house or attend any community functions such as weddings. The villagers believed that the presence of a widow in a marriage function,was inauspicious and brought ill omen to the new family.
Unable to withstand the humiliation and disrespect heaped on her mother, Jyoti decided to change the plight of widows.
She approached her Head teacher and told her that she would like to change the way people think about widows in India.
In 2010, she started campaigning for this cause. She went from house to house trying to convince people to change their attitude and stop the discrimination shown to them.
" Initially,nobody listened to me, as i was so small. Often, i would be thrown out but i did not lose courage and went right back."
She started enacting 'nukkad nataks' ( street plays) with 4-5 friends as taught by her teachers. Eventually, the elders decided to give her a hearing but she faced quite a lot of opposition, especially from the men.
" They couldn't digest the fact that a girl was breaking their customs and would beat us up," she says. But that hardly mattered for her.
Unfettered, she carried on to help improve the status of widows in her society.
Her efforts finally paid off.
Widows, like her mother, are now employed as 'anganwadi' workers and are paid Rs.3,500 monthly. They also lead Saksharta Mission ( a Govt. of India initiative for spreading education in every nook and corner of the country) and actively participate in social events.
Jyoti Yadav's campaign: " A widower is never held responsible for his wife's death. So why people start calling the widow a 'witch' and accuse her of her misfortune ?" is now spreading its wings to other villages as well.
Her efforts have been recognized finally and the results have been tremendous.
The immense courage and hope shown by her is inspiring, to say the least. The maturity to see, that what is happening around her is wrong and to act upon it, is truly commendable. I hope through her and many others, the stigma attached to widows, is erased. I hope to see her campaign reach a National level, where the Government actively promotes and encourages such steps, more.
The status of women in modern India, is bit of a paradox. If on one hand, she is at the peak of her ladder of success, on the other hand she is silently suffering the violence afflicted by her own family members. As compared with past, women in modern India have achieved a lot. But still there are many roadblocks in her path. They have mastered in many fields but still have a long way to go to achieve equal status in our society.
If a young girl can, then we also can.Let us not allow the widows to die unsung. They deserve a fulfilling life too,cherished with dreams and emotions, as much as any other in the society. The following lines from the 'Song of an African Woman' beautifully sums up the desire of every Indian women:
I have only one request. I do not ask for money Although i have need of it, I do not ask for meat.. I have only one request,
And all i ask is, That you remove The road block From my path.
Take action! This post was submitted in response to Ending Gender-Based Violence 2012.