Zee Media Bureau
Vrindavan: For the first time, thousands of widows of Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh will celebrate Diwali this year.
Thanks to NGO Sulabh International, the women will light diyas and firecrackers too, breaking free of superstition and oppressive tradition, and starting a fresh chapter in the history of social reform in India.
Diwali celebrations for the widows have been organised at "Meerasahabhagni Ashram". The festivities, which began on October 31, will continue until November 03.
On October 31, the women lit Diwali lamps, symbolising a new surge of empowerment of poor and abandoned women. More than a 1,000 widows, most of them aged 70 years or above, who have long lived a life of seclusion and suffered ostracism as traditional beliefs hold them to be inauspicious, joined the festivities around Diwali, lighting colourful lamps and "phuljadis", with child-like delight, and spreading amusement and joy to hundreds of local people at the century-old Meerasahabhagini Ashram in this holy town of Vrindavan.
Women in all five widow`s shelter homes in Vrindavan joined the celebrations. The celebrations are being conducted with the initiative of non-governmental organisation Sulabh International.
After the Supreme Court, during a hearing last year, took strong exception to the shoddy manner in which the bodies of dead widows who were residents of government-run shelter homes were disposed of, Sulabh International intervened to offer the widows a life of dignity.
In the past year, the widows have seen a sea change in the quality of their lives, receiving a Rs 2,000-per-month pension each, and taking part in festivities.
Earlier this year, some widows joined Holi celebrations. During Durga puja, some of them were taken to Kolkata to join festivities in the West Bengal capital.
Arrangements have been made to impart education to the widows in Hindi, Bengali and English, and teachers have been appointed for the purpose. The widows will also be taught to make garlands and incense sticks, besides also receiving training in sewing and embroidery.
The pension from Sulabh International helps the widows take care of their needs without recourse to seeking alms or receiving small sums of money in exchange for singing at the numerous temples in Vrindavan.
The widows now even take part in "ghazals", "kirtans" and "bhajan sandhyas" of their choice, and watch serials on TV sets provided to them by the NGO.
Sulabh International has also made available ambulances for the use of the widow shelter homes. Regular medical check-ups are also organised for the women. A dignified cremation is also given to the women who die in these homes, with full rites and religious rituals.
Much stigma traditionally attaches to the widow in India, who is considered an ill omen and not allowed to be present at auspicious occasions.
Traditionally, widows have been denied ornaments and colourful sarees. They are also forbidden non-vegetarian food, garlic and onions.
Many of women at the shelter homes in Vrindavan are old and infirm, and considered burdens by families, many of whom have abandoned them.
(With IANS inputs)