In India many women are married off at a very early age. There have been cases in which little girls that are still babies— only 5 or 6 years old— have been given to men that are much older than they are. Many times this age difference turns women into widows while they’re very still young.
Many centuries ago, whenever a husband died, the wife was burned alive with his body. This practice was called sati and it was done as a sacrifice to atone for her sins. It was believed that it was the woman’s sins that brought on her husband’s death. The sins of her family members could also be atoned through this sacrifice and so families made sure the women burned to death and didn’t escape the inhuman treatment.
Although this practice was banned in the 19th century, the mentality behind it remains: women who are widowed are still blamed for the deaths of their husbands and they are shunned from the community. Often times their own sons kick them out of the house or treat them so badly that they have no choice but to leave voluntarily. Some of them were given bad food, forced to sleep in uncomfortable places or tortured in different ways.
Traditionally, widows are forced to only dress in white sarees, forced to cut off all their hair, and prohibited from wearing jewelry for the rest of their lives. They are also left to beg on the streets. The shunning of widows is prevalent in the poorest states in India. Without a man to support her, a woman can become a financial burden to her family.
Many widows end up living in monasteries where they find shelter and food. At these places they learn new skills and are treated with dignity and mercy. They can learn English, Hindi, and Bengali there. They are also taught to use a sewing machine. Their days begin and end with prayer and they sing and praise Krishna five times a day.
At one particular monastery, the women are given a new opportunity to enjoy life. They receive money to buy food and they feel sheltered and love, sometimes for the very first time in their lives.
Many activists have decided to use their influence to change the nation’s attitude towards widows. Now there are men who don’t see a problem with marrying a widow if she’s the right age. The gurus and legislators have made it possible for those harmful traditions to be done away with, but progress is slow because a large portion of society still frowns at the idea. Find out more now.