Islam did never put any restriction upon women about their dress, food or social participation. Unfortunately, a Muslim widow in India even today is not really welcome during the peak moments of hilarity at the occasion of weddings. She is not being told this in harsh words but she knows the exact fire lines. She comes near the wedding couple only if she happens to be a very close member of family. Otherwise her shadow is inauspicious. That is the fact though many would love to refute for the sake of parochial defense. Religion has nothing to do with this tacit ostracism.
In the Hindu society also the Hindu widows become the victims of isolation and discrimination. They were not allowed to attend any auspicious event even in their own family. They have to fast several times of the year and even when they could eat with absurd restrictions on high-protein lentils.
For the rest of their lives, the only clothing allowed to them was a piece of white cotton fabric. They have outlived their husbands and that goes against their status. It is like a very real stigma of daring to outlive their husbands. There was the SATI custom that was knocked off by the past rulers but a SATI is accorded a high religious status, a kind of nimbus shines in mind when she is remembered today.
A woman attains religious purity through sacrifice and deprivation if she survives her husband. It is unbelievable that that often it would be her own sons and daughters-in-law who wait like vultures for her death. With time, things changed little bit. However, despite the relative liberalization, overall they still live a simple life and resist every temptation to transgress the puritanical rules imposed by society.
In this background let us take the plight of unfortunate widow who lands in Kashi, Mathura or other places of pilgrimage. They arrive there not for pleasure or on their own volition. The truth is that their children and relatives, as revealed by the stories narrated time to time in media, discard them as burden and with a no-return ticket. They are forsaken forever. They are being left at the mercy of priests, temples and dharamshalas. They lead a desolate, dejected and hopeless life with a dream of a peaceful twilight and silent departure from this ugly world.
These widows are the pathetic sight to watch and it is painful to imagine their life. They sing in temples and get paid a measly reward in terms of cash. They pass their days in abject poverty and want; they beg in the streets, squat or lie on the steps outside the temples often clad in rags. You come across in dirty lanes and when they breathe their last, there’s nobody even to take care of their cremation. In fact their existence could be the least offensive to anyone.
Unfortunately, it was with a feeling of awe and shock when as just plain mean-ness and stupidity, Hema Malini, the super star of yonder took a pick on the widows of Vrindavan. The BJP MP from Mathura displayed the worst face of humanity when she said during a tour of a shelter home that, “Vrindavan widows have a bank balance, good income, nice beds, but they beg out of habit.”
That was the moment of realization for BJP that there were many perils of recruiting a movie star into the political fold. She is not known to the pathos of those who have fallen by the way side – by a quirk of fate. She might be even naïve as she had become a Muslim to marry a much married film star Dharmendra.
I fail to comprehend how these kind of marriages fit in the new fiery RSS blitzkrieg of ‘Love Jihad.’ Hema has shown her real self and demonstrated a peculiar twist of her personality. She is unaware that the widows of Vrindavan have long been a symbol of gender inequality in India. Ever since the horrendous practice of Sati was banned over 250 years ago, Vrindavan had become host to widows from all over India. The bulk of them are now sheltered in ashrams here and majority of them are from Bengal. They’re seen as a financial drain on their families.
The former queen of Bollywood’s later tried to gloss over her howler as she gave it a political twist. She said, “There are 40,000 widows in Vrindavan. I think there is no more place in the city. A large population is coming from Bengal… that’s not right. Why don’t they stay in Bengal? There are nice temples there. The same is true for those from Bihar.“
The bottom line is that she was trying to encash the fact that most of them speak Bengali. Identifying them and corner them as Bangladeshi without saying so would provide some political mileage. Sad commentary at the state of mind as the extent to immoral plunge some would take to cater the whims of political bosses.
By: Naim Naqvi
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