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Widows in India: Lest we Forget

Sayam Majumdar | July 1, 2021
Widows in India: Lest we Forget

Human behaviour is flawed. On the one hand, we try and improve ourselves in the process of becoming better. But on the other, the tendency to neglect certain chunks of society is one long standing flaw. However, the pandemic was non-discriminating; it unleashed its fury on all sections of society in equal measure.  The effects of the pandemic are severe but all the same, we have no option but to face it. Besides, the agonies for many are actually even worse, especially for ones who have lost a partner, a friend, a sibling or a parent. The loss of life is devastating.

I will attempt to highlight the plight one population subset that has seen a significant surge. Amid the pandemic, widows are faced with countless challenges. India’s overtly patriarchal society ensured that women depended on men in their family for their basic sustenance. In addition, the discriminatory scope through which society views women does not help their situation either. Their contemporary condition demands special attention. The loss of a husband is puffed up by their fight for daily survival, their social dignity and primarily their fulfilment of their basic human rights.

A large number of Indian widows–especially those hailing from lesser socio-economic backgrounds–seem to lead a life that is only slightly better than death. There are an estimated 40 million widows in India, representing the highest number in the world. In most rural areas, a woman is only accorded recognition if she ‘a daughter, a wife or mother’. The predicaments facing widows are not limited to India alone. In fact, one in every ten widows globally lead a life in acute poverty. The lack of job opportunity is one of the many reasons for such vulnerability.

The cynics among us will ponder as to why must we know the problems faced by widows? After all, we all have our own shares of problems, right? In simple terms, our own problems aside, it is imperative to acknowledge their issues. It is a long standing need to identify and resolve their predicaments. For all we know, it could be a widow in our family next, who are left facing the same overwhelming challenges. We need to step out, work for them and try to make their life a little more comfortable in any little way possible.

The pandemic’s impact on widows in India

A survey of 940 widow farmers by MAKAAM (Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch) uncovered the skyrocketing feebleness of the single women farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown in Maharashtra. Widows face constant obstacles, which include biased land inheritance rights and control over assets following the death of their husband. According to World Bank research, it likely happens in 40 percent of countries, with India being one of the primary ones.

The pandemic has exacerbated the setting even further. It is evident that widows are being forced out of their marital homes by their in-laws. With economic resources becoming scarce, they are viewed as an extra ‘mouth to feed’, and are shunned by the family. In most cases, widows depend upon their late husbands for property rights. However, the deceased’s family often pose hindrances for the surviving spouse. Sometimes, widows are also forced into second marriages to relive her existing household of having to take care of her.

The economic background of an individual plays a vital role in all aspects of life. And the consequences stemming from economic disparities have only become more obvious, especially amid the pandemic. The less affluent sections of society often lack access to proper medical services. Besides, the cost of medical procedures is often prohibitive. And in this already grim scenario, widows are caught in the crossfire. Not only does it impact their lives, but also that of their children for years on end.

Suggested measures

Regardless of the odds faced by widows, they make a valuable contribution to the communities they live in. It is imperative, therefore, to safeguard their interests and to extend economic opportunities to them. As an exemplary citizen of the 21st century, one must not be biased towards widows and their rights.

Creating reservations for them would be futile, it would make them feel outcast and create the stigma of being unalike. Instead, creating equal opportunity for all would serve a better purpose. Certain extra privileges however come into account when one contemplates the pain she undergoes after losing her partner. Keeping in mind, the majority of widows are uneducated in India, thus it would not be possible for them to work in firms or offices without any receipt of formal education. Having being considered less robust than male counterparts create less scope too for them to work as labourers. Only about 15 percent of the world’s farmland is owned by women according to Landesa, a land rights charity. Compiling all these glitches faced by them would trigger one to give extra privileges to widows, which would aid them mentally, physically and primarily financially.

A personal appeal

I would like to request my readers to contribute in any possibly way towards improving the dismal plight of widows. The lockdown has already shuttered thousands of business and affected million from a financial perspective. Individuals, who were perhaps on firm financial footing even two years ago, now find themselves in the doldrums. For many, the loss of employment has meant resorting to their savings which are fast depleting. Meanwhile, for others who were affected by the virus suffered a huge monetary setback in terms of covering their recovery and ongoing healthcare expenses.

Amid this backdrop, imagine the plight of a widow from a lower socio-economic stratum. In all likelihood, she may not even be certain of where her next meal is going to come from, let alone have assurance of a roof over her head. It is true that we are all affected by the pandemic but the ones who were already suffering a less fair chance at life, have only been driven into a deeper rut.

Sayam Majumdar

Sayam is a student of class 11 at Father LeBlond School. He is avid sportsperson and a keen debater. Sayam has his sights on an Ivy League university and is working in earnest to fulfil this goal.

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