Over 100 widows from Vrindavan and Varanasi flocked here today on International Widows' Day with a plea for introduction of a Bill for welfare of such women in the upcoming Parliament session.
"We just want our Prime Minister to see the conditions in which we live in and struggles we face to fend for our daily necessities," said 80-year-old Manu Ghosh, a widow and resident of Meera Sahabhagini Mahila Ashram in Vrinadavan.
Ghosh says she lost her husband and her sons when she was 45, married off her daughters and never looked back and neither her daughters tried to contact her after marriage and know about her whereabouts.
"We get a widow pension of Rs 300 and a subsidised rate at the government ration shop for our daily needs. We go to various temples for Bhajan and Kirtan to earn for our medical checkups and other needs," Ghosh said.
"We will approach Modi and our new MP from Mathura Hema Malini to take measures for the welfare of widows who are living in Vrindavan and Varanasi," she said.
Radha Dasi, an 84-year-old widow from West Bengal, hoped that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will pay attention to the plight of widows.
An estimated 40 million of the world's widows live in India of which 15,000 alone on the streets of Vrindavan. The United Nation General Assembly declared on June 23, 2011 the first-ever International Widows' Day and the day has been celebrated annually.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in a statement today, said, "No woman should lose her rights when she loses her husband, but an estimated 115 million widows live in poverty, and 81 million have suffered physical abuse. Girls married to much older men are especially vulnerable."
"Let us use International Widows' Day to advocate for the rights of all widows so they can enjoy better lives and realise their great potential to contribute to our world," he said.
Vrindavan is home to thousands of old widows from West Bengal and their condition used to be pitiable till the Supreme Court intervened and Sulabh NGO took up their cause to ameliorate their plight on August 2012.
Sulabh is currently engaged in taking care of the needs of widows in six government-run ashrams in Vrindavan. Widows are being given a stipend of Rs 2,000 each by the organisation which also organises a series of welfare measure like medical camps and proper food management in these ashrams.
Social reformer and founder of Sulabh, Bindeshwar Pathak who assisted in drafting a widow protection Bill for welfare of widows in the country says he plans to meet the Prime Minister to push the draft bill in Parliament's upcoming Budget session.
"We want the government to pass this bill in this session of Parliament. Widows should receive not only monetary help from government but also measures to remove this malpractice of ostracising widows from the society," Pathak said.
The key points in the draft includes a maintenance fee of Rs 3,000 per month by the government as well as education and skill development for young widows.
"We have just started training few widows in making incense sticks, candles, tailoring and making garlands of different materials. Their products are being sold in the local market. Such training should be given to them on a large scale," Pathak said.
Currently, there are an estimated over 800 widows in Vrindavan, 150 in Varanasi and 32 in Uttarakhand.
"Their ashrams are dilapidating with irregular electricity supply which often leads to accidents injuring these ladies," Pathak said.
"We live in these conditions with just Rs 10 per day. We have been asking for an increase in kerosene oil quota from 3 litres to 5 litres a month but to no avail.
No one listens to us. This is the reality," Ghosh said.