For centuries, the lives of widows in India have been marked by exclusion, marginalization and cruel caste and community customs. Low-income widows have even less opportunities to improve their lives and live with dignity. Low educational levels of women in the country, widespread patriarchal values, lack of organization of the widows themselves, have meant that the condition of widows in India has gone unnoticed.
It is reported that 8% of all females in India are widows – a number of about 56,000,000 in 2008! Not all are deprived of a life of dignity, but probably more than half are! Still not a small number, and when other “women alone” – those divorced, abandoned, thrown out by their husbands are added on, one could say that the numbers are at least about 10% of all women in India.
Raja Ram Mohan Roy (1772-1833) was a social reformer who influenced the status of widows, and Gandhi promoted widows’ right to live a life with dignity, but there are not many others in the list, and society has been slow to change.
There are some government entitlements, like widow pensions, but low-income, poorly educated widows find it hard to access these resources on their own. And in most states, there is no pension for “separated” women.
Something needed to be done. What was needed was not more ashrams, but an organization of widows and separated women helping each other and fighting for their rights. And so, in January 2000, the Rajasthan Association of Strong Women Alone was formed, and at present (December 2008) has over 26,299 members across 28 Districts of the state, and is still growing.
• Suffer loss of household income and assets
• Lack favorable inheritance rights
• Lack social/governmental support system
Without skills, support, or opportunity, widows often succumb to the viscous cycle of poverty. Some are forced into servitude or beggary.
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