Deukala, a middle aged woman, widowed for 5 years now, in the Far- Western Region of Nepal, was blamed to be the cause of her husband's death.Recently,she was accused of the death of a buffalo in her neighborhood and the village people beat and tortured her. She was called a witch and they also tried to make her eat human excreta.
This is a representative example of how a widow is mis-treated and traumatized in the country,how widows are looked down upon and treated as inauspicious.
Even though a secular country, majority of people are Hindus in Nepal. According to the Hindu culture, married women wear red clothes, red bangles, tika and sindooor in their hairline to mark their marriage. After their husbands death, their shindoor is forcefully washed off, their bangles smashed and heir potes and ornaments snatched off. Ther are forced to wear white clothes to mourn to their husband's death for 1 whole year. Throughout their remaining life they are not permitted to wear res clothes or any ornaments. They cannot remarry and should stay single even if they are very young.
Widows are taken as inauspicious in any ceremony. May it be a wedding or a religious function, they are the un welcomed guests , the mere presence of whom is considered to bring misfortune and badluck. On seeing a widow on one's way, some people still postpone important works or spit frequently to ward off bad luck. Widows are confined to their household doing the chores and caring for the children. They are prohibited to freely move out of household premises. Neither they are allowed in their regular jobs nor can continue their further education. Access to basic needs like nutritious food, health care and recreation are out of topic.
Widows are among the most vulnerable categories ofpeople in the country. The social stigma attached to them deprive them of their basic human rights and freedom of speech. They are prey of physical and sexual assaults and harassments, accused of various sexual misseeds and are socially marginalized. We often hear about widows getting physically tortured in the name of evil witches, sexually harassed by the well known people of community , raped, and even forced to dispalce from their homes.
These taboos and social stigma to widowed women are entirely man made under the shadow of religion. Widows are forced to adapt self belief and patience. But the Hindu religion never restricred widow women and deprived of their rights,their possessions and ornaments. The patriarchial mindset still prevailing in the society makes widows more vulnerable and deprive their basic rights to freedom , speech, property and occupation.
In the conrext of nepal,the 2011 CBS data revealed that 87% of widow population were constrained by lack of resources and economic opportunities .One major cause of abrupt increase in number of widow in Nepal is the decade long insurgency or the Peoples' War during which large number of men were killed from both sides. Another was the 2015 earthquake,which left many women widows and vulnerable to sexual abuse and exploitation both within and outside the household as they no longer had a male guardian to 'protect ' them.
Despite many conventions,platforms or declarations for women, the issues of widowhood was not included in any international conventions. The post-2015 Sustainable Development agenda promises to 'leave nobody behind' ,thereby offering a ray of hope for overcoming stigma associated with marital status. In Nepal, at present, the issues of widows along with underprivilages and vulnerable groups of women started being voiced.
Today Nepal has more than 1500 single women groups,many volunteers ,many human rights acrivists and defenders, single women leaders, policymakers and national leaders to raise volice for a society without any discriminarion based on one's marital status. Women for Human Rights (WHR) ,a single womens group,NGO established in 1994 and has been working forwidows issues in Nepal. The women friendly constitution ,widow friendly laws, plans and policies in constitution have given hope for many neglected widows across the country .
Remarriage of widows, rights to continue their study, occupation ,start of various skill generating trainings and programmes, government monthly icentive and right to property have given hope for widow for their better, independent, equitable and empowered tomorrow.