They still hope when they die, that their son probably will come and light their pyre. A son who breaks your legs, a son who hits you so hard that your skull breaks, a son who is willing to put cow dung in your mouth – and yet you want the same son to come and light your pyre. We need to break that mind-set also, somewhere – Winnie Singh, social activist
I was searching the Internet to see what I could find out about the quality of life for widows in India and was shocked. After losing their husbands, they are faced with a life of begging and destitution. Some of them are thrown out by family members. One widow was beaten by the sons she had raised when she asked them for money. In-laws refuse to help some widows while others can’t go back home because their parents are too poor to take them back.
Widows face discrimination and are dehumanized. They are called “it” and in some instances, they are referred to as “randi” which means prostitute in Punjabi. Some of them marry their brothers-in-law because being man’s property protects them from being raped.
A widow is blamed for her husband’s death. “You are widowed because you did something wrong in your previous life: that is the view in this predominantly Hindu culture,” explains Dr. Leelavathi Manasseh of the Bible Society. “So, whether a widow is from a rich or poor background, she faces blame, mistreatment and rejection by her family. Many are kicked out of their homes and left to fend for themselves and their children, leaving them in a desperate situation.” It’s worse when a woman loses her husband to AIDS and she tests positive for HIV. She is met with even more rejection and ridicule.
In Northern India, there is a place called, “Widow City.” It is the holy city of Vrindavan. Widows go there because they believe that if you die there, you would be freed from the cycle of birth and death and obtain moksha (emancipation). It is a place where these women can get away from a life of isolation and the society where they have no place or value. They are there because they were cast out families who don’t want to pay for them or by in-laws who don’t want them to inherit money or property. They are ostracised by their villages. They have lost their income. They are at the bottom rungs of society and are prevented from remarrying. In Vrindavan, they pray at the temples and beg. Other widows go there, as pilgrims, intending to dedicate their remaining years to serving the deities Krishna and Radha.
Life for a widow is hard. When their husbands were alive, they were protected but once they were gone, these poor women felt like orphans because they had no one to take care of them or help them. They were all alone. Perhaps this is why in the Bible, orphans and widows were always paired together because they were defenceless, society’s vulnerable. God wants us to plead for the widows. Defend their rights to a future filled with hope and dignity. God made it clear that He is “Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans” (Malachi 3:5).
While society sees widows as a curse, God sees broken, abused, mistreated and unloved women whom He wants to enter into a loving relationship with. Their families don’t want them, but God wants them to be a part of His family.
Like so many widows, Netramani was cast out and left to fend for herself. “I was completely alone. … No one would give me work so I had to beg. … I had nothing to eat, nothing to wear. I was completely senseless and didn’t know anything. . .”
Watch Netramani’s heart-wrenching story and imagine either you or someone you know lying there, sick and helpless and no one stops to help.
…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’
Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’ – Matthew 25:35-40.
June 23 is International Widows’ Day, a day when we step into the lives of widows and imagine the desperate places where they find themselves. Some commit suicide rather than face the shame. Others turn to prostitution. Mothers resort to rummaging through the trash in order to feed themselves and their children. These women don’t deserve to be like this. You can change this. Through your donations you will make it possible for local pastors to help widows in need, buy them sewing machines, farm animals, or much-needed supplies like winter blankets, water filters and other essentials. And with your generous gift, these women will have the opportunity to learn about Jesus and His love and compassion for them. To find out more about how you can help, visit http://www.gfa.org/women/widows/
As Christians, we need to demonstrate the love of Christ who reached out to those who were hurting, oppressed and ostracised. He loved the unloved and valued those whom society deemed worthless. Together let us plead for the widows. Let us take up their cause. They have the right to keep their homes, their income and their dignity. Let us contend with those who mistreat them. Let us speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. When we do good to others, we honour God.
A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, Is God in His holy habitation – Psalm 68:5.
Sources: Gospel for Asia; Time.com; Women Under Seige; The Laws of Manu; BBC.com; Cross Map; India: Widow City; BBC News