Why is there prejudice against widowhood in India
India is a place where women have been facing immense discrimination from childhood onwards. So, considering widowhood, the challenges are considerable due to the sudden demise of a spouse which can cause tremendous mental stress, physical stress, stigmatization, and economic insecurity. Here we discuss the lack of awareness of the mental, physical, and economic instability of widows and give proper guidance to society to embrace them.
Introduction Marriage is considered as an inevitable practice from time immemorial. Most women in rural areas are forced to marry at a young age before acquiring a proper education. India is home to an estimated 40 million widows, approximately 10 percent of all women. After the death of the husband, women undergo a tremendous state of grief and trauma. They also suffer mental torture and discrimination from in-laws as well as society. Even though the concept of 'sati' has been demolished, some traditional practices are still expected by widows to mourn their death. They are forbidden to live a normal life, like gaining education, job, financial stability, socializing, etc. Due to immense mental torturing and stigmatization, women are forced to commit suicide. The main problems faced by widows are enumerated below.
1. Poor Mental and Physical Health Physical illness caused due to the loss of a long-term spouse can affect a woman's health drastically. The body will become more vulnerable to psychological, emotional and environmental stresses which include depression, anxiety, guilty feelings, fatigue, loss of appetite etc. Some may be prone to chronic heart disease. Loneliness is one of the hardest parts to deal with in widowhood. The mental trauma each widow goes through in their life is inconceivable.
2, Deprived of inheritance rights According to the Hindu succession act of 1969, women are equally eligible to inherit their ancestral property with men, but the majority of Indian widows are deprived of their legal rights. The root cause of poverty and marginalization of widows is the restriction of freedom to return to their parental homes. She is forced to remain in her husband's home and has no ownership rights to his property. Due to the illiteracy of women in rural areas, many are unable to assert their rights.
3. Stigmatization and Violence In many rural parts of India, widows are accused of the cause of their spouse's death by in-laws and the community. Some women undergo constant harassment and sexual abuse by other male members of the family. The accusers exploit the helplessness of widows by raping them and being impregnated and some of them are infected by sexually transmitted diseases.
4. Prohibition Of Remarriage Some caste systems in India forbid the remarriage of widows. If any widow remarries, they won't have any rights to property or her own children. In some other cultures, they force widows to remarry someone within the family like a brother-in-law. The chances of getting a suitable partner are less unless she is willing to marry a widower, sick or handicapped. Due to the harsh treatment in the new family, especially the abuse of their children, most widows have the fear of remarriage and most of them prefer to live an ascetic life in ashrams.
5. Financial Instability The economic hardships faced by widows are significant. Due to lack of education and gender division of labour, fewer employment opportunities for widows. They are forced to send their children for labor instead of giving them proper education. As a source of income, some even adopt prostitution.
Conclusion We have to educate the current society that the life of a woman won't end after her spouse's demise. She has the right to live her life equally like any other human being. All these above-mentioned problems of widows have solutions by conducting mental health awareness programs by various NGOs, giving emotional support and guidance, conducting counseling classes to family members, assured of emergency assistance, etc. The government approved a pension scheme for widows and they can also take loans from financial institutions to start small shops to earn income or to continue education.
I have seen many widows during my childhood and today also I am seeing many widows. There is a sea change. But as mentioned by the author, we should try to encourage the ladies who lost their spouses and see that they will not face any mental depression. Many ladies, after losing their spouses, will feel as if they lost everything in their lives. To bring them to the normal stage all the family members should provide her with moral support.
Many of the customs in our society are changed and widows are also able to manage their lives properly now. There are cases where a young widow will marry again and spend a happy life. We should try to tell these examples to the widows who are feeling helpless and show them the ways to live on. These days nobody is imposing any restrictions on widows regarding their way of life and that is really welcome development.