Widows Exiled From Society

In Kochila district, Odisha, widows are ostracized by their communities. Sarita Biswal, a young community leader from Kochila district in Odisha was attending a family wedding in her village when she noticed a group of women gathered in the quietest corner of the marriage hall. In the midst of the colour and rhythm, these women were plainly dressed and almost never stepped out of the corner to participate in the festivities. They stood like mute witnesses to the rituals. When Sarita implored them to join the celebrations, the women replied that were too afraid to step out of the invisible boundaries. “We’re widows,” they said. “We’re not allowed to.” When Sarita returned this incident kept playing in her mind. She asked her parents and her neighbours about the treatment meted out to these women and the answers she received ranged from the superstitious like branding the women an ‘ill omen’ to just plain apathetic and ill-informed like terming it ‘tradition.’ It was then that Sarita decided to initiate the campaign to change this situation. She would begin by making a video on the miserable lives led by the widows in her village and also document the insensitivity with which the rest of community treated them. As she was making her video Sarita discovered many shocking incidents. No shop or bus would allow a widow as their first customer. They believe that it brings them bad luck. In some cases, people refused to look them directly in the eye. They are ostracized by their own families. They are not allowed to participate in any religious celebration, neither are they allowed to enter religious spaces. Remarriage is taboo and the only livelihood available to them is that of a labourer. Existence is always hand to mouth. It is like they were serving a punishment. Sarita realized that these women were among the marginalized and oppressed groups in contemporary Indian society. Says Sarita,” It is society that brings bad luck to widows not the other way around.” There are over 40 million widows in India which is approximately 10% of all Indian women. Most are living life in the most miserable of conditions. The social reformation movements in India began with emphasis on the condition ofwidows but Sarita witnessed that very little had changed on the ground. “It was very difficult to make the video,” she says. “The women were refusing to speak to me. It was only gradually and with persistence that I managed to convince them to speak out. Speaking out is the first step towards change. The struggle is yet to come but we’re all together on this one.”

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