Maneesh Foto

Maneesh Foto

Posted on 02/18/2011

Photo taken on December 31, 2010

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Dakshineshwar Temple
Canon EOS 7D
West Bengal
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS

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Thirsty for some loving

Thirsty for some loving
A glaring gender discrimination among Hindus exists in India over the centuries. Whereas a widower can remarry as many times as he likes, a widow cannot remarry irrespective of her age. The position of widows was pitiable, since their very existence or seeing their face early in the morning was considered a bad omen. Because of this, quite often they are evicted from their homes by their own family or are left to fend for themselves in the temple towns of Varanasi and Vrindavan-Mathura.

Among the brahmins and some higher castes, their heads were shaven, they were made to wear red or white sari without ornaments and eat a single meal. Their presence at family public functions was totally forbidden. The widows slogged in joint families, died unwept and unsung.

"We treat widowhood not as a natural stage in the life cycle of a woman, we treat it as some kind of an aberration. We accept death but we don't accept widowhood," says Meera Khanna, organiser of the world's first international conference on widows in South Asia.

Many social reformers in different parts of India have tried to better the lot of such women by educating them and making them self-reliant. Child marriage was forbidden by law in early 20th century and this act alone reduced the suffering of women substantially. With the spread of education and especially during India's freedom struggle, there was a national awareness regarding the condition of women. Many widows took active part in constructive programs laid down by Mahatma Gandhi and were forefront leaders.

After independence of India (in 1947) and the subsequent reforms that followed, the dress-code for widows became less rigorous and has disappeared. In cities, at least among middle class, no child-widows are seen. However, widow remarriages are not common. Widowhood is considered still considered a curse in places and family support is missing at times.