Is it necessary to address a ‘wife’ as ‘widow’? Let’s say no to it

I had not heard the detestable word till a close friend lost her husband a few days after death snatched away mine.

Till the prayer meeting at her place, there was only grief as we were the ‘wives’ who had lost their dear husbands just as our families and friends had lost their brother, friend, son, father et al.

The new nomenclature, used for women after they lose their spouse, did not occur to me at all when I was mourning my husband’s sudden demise. But a thunderbolt hit me hard when the mentor of my friend’s husband — a former principal of a reputed school — inadvertently addressed her as his ‘widow’ while paying tribute to her husband at the prayer meeting held on the fourth day.

Within four days a ‘wife’ had become a ‘widow’.

Technically speaking there is nothing wrong in using the word ‘widow’ which has a place in all dictionaries as well as scriptures.

Emotionally, the word reminds the wife of her painful loss and the barbaric practices widows endure in some parts of the country—maybe across the world.

It also brings to mind the disturbing images of women dressed in white and draped in gloom, chandan tikka on their forehead— the ones you see in Vrindavan and Haridwar, often denied all happiness that comes with celebrations of festivals and family functions.

Why should a woman be subjected to a traumatic nomenclature and a lifestyle?

The rebel in me instantly woke up as I tried to recall when I last heard the word ‘widower’.

How would one recognise a widower — he is neither addressed so nor does he change his style of dressing after losing his wife. In ancient days there were reasons to make her ‘unattractive to protect her’ but then there have been boundless tales of their humiliation even after they got their head shaved.

Is it necessary to address a ‘wife’ as ‘widow? Even after losing her husband she remains a wife — with ‘late’ affixed to her husband’s name in all forms and formalities. She needs support, not sympathy, as her responsibility doubles to independently face the world.

A friend’s daughter recently insisted that her wedding invite should be from both her ‘late father’ and her mother. There was a hue and cry over this as it went against the traditions laid down by God knows who.

She stood her ground and exclaimed, “I don’t mind people getting invites from a ghost daddy.” Her other argument was that her scientist mother had an identity other than the ‘wife’ of her father.

A woman dons many mantles. The death of a spouse comes as a quake that shatters life. Why humiliate her by calling her a ‘widow’, which tends to overshadow all her other relations and responsibilities? She remains a mother, daughter, sister, professional and housewife. Let her remain the wife of her late husband.

The prime minister and chief ministers should think of renaming the scheme ‘Vidhva Pension Yojana’ (Widow Pension Scheme) because surely the idea behind the programme is to empower the woman in distress and not make her feel like a ‘lesser mortal’.

It’s just a matter of replacing the word ‘widow’ with ‘wife’ in all forms and communications. Let her feel she is not a burden on earth—but a normal human being who has an independent identity and aspires to be happy.

I write this as a wife who strongly feels that the sky won’t fall if one word is removed from the dictionary.

I am the voice of thousands of silent women which will not go unheard in the echelons of power and our fast-changing society.

Are you listening, Prime Minister?


Celebrating Holi with widows of Vrindavan

Breaking away from the societal pressures, many Indian widows take part in playing Holi – a Hindu festival of colours – in the city of Vrindavan.

Maitri celebrated Holi through a day long set of activities at our old age home with widow mothers, breaking away from societal pressures of not being allowed to partake in any festivity after their husbands’ death. Abandoned and rejected by their relatives and friends after being widowed, indulging in yesterday’s festivity was enough to lift their spirits high!

Thank you to all those who joined in and made it a meaningful celebration for the widow mothers and thank you to those who have supported our programme to care for them in any way. We look forward to your continued support!

Photos courtesy of Darius Roman (National Geographic, Getty Images) & Maitri India. All rights reserved.06 19 18 17

70-yr old widow’s accidental death turns out to be a well-planned murder by strangulation

Representational pic

Nagpur: The accidental death of a 70-year old woman has turned out to be a well-planned murder by strangulation. The turn of event followed post-mortem report that revealed the woman was strangulated to death. The elderly widow was found dead in her house situated near 8th Mile, Wadi in Nagpur on Monday (November 10) and the police had registered a case of accidental death. Now an offence of murder has been registered.

According to police, the deceased widow Bhagwati Sunil Chanda (70), resident of Ramji Ambedkar Nagar, 8th Mile, Wadi, Nagpur on Sunday had gone to her daughter Saroj’s house in Pandharabodi. After the meal, Bhagwati, around 1.30 pm, returned home. While returning home, Saroj’s son had dropped Bhagwati near her home in Wadi. Thereafter there was no contact with Bhagwati. Her elder son Ram, who stays in Chandrapur, phoned her at 5 pm but Bhagwati did not respond. Ram again phoned her at 9.30 pm but this time also he did not receive any response from Bhagwati. Sensing something amiss, Ram informed about the development to his younger brother Shyam residing in Hudkeshwar. Shyam reached his mother’s house on Monday morning and knocked the door but failed to get any response. Panicky Shyam immediately informed Wadi police, who too, reached Bhagwati’s house. After breaking open the door, police found Bhagwati lying dead under suspicious manner. Wadi police had first registered a case of accidental death. However, a detailed probe and ultimately the post-mortem report revealed Bhagwati was done to death by strangulation with her own sari.

Now, Wadi cops have registered an offence under Section 302 against the unidentified accused and probing the matter further.

City of Widows

In the month of July, when both heat and humidity are at their peak in the holy city of Vrindavan in north India, thousands of devotees stream in to offer prayers to their Lord Krishna on a day that is among the most auspicious in the year. As devotional music blares through loudspeakers, a surge of bodies presses forward towards the temples that have been adorned for the special day. This place of the childhood leela(divine play) of Lord Krishna, a Hindu God who is considered to have taken human form to fight off evil, never lacks abundant festivity or throngs of visitors. But a few streets away, where the crowds and the chanting fade away, a row of lime-painted buildings, with freshly washed white cotton sarees strung neatly on a clothesline, offers a glimpse into the daily life of some of the city’s residents. Going about their chores are abandoned, widowed women, aged anywhere between 35 to 80 years, who have traveled thousands of miles to find this place of refuge.

In one of the dormitories here, sitting on the edge of her bed, is Geeta Bai. For 60 years Geeta Bai was entirely devoted to her family. She married at thirteen; her family was the only life she knew. Her husband was her Lord, whom she still addresses with deep reverence as her ‘swami’ (master). After her husband died some 15 years ago, she had hoped to be looked after by her two adult sons, whose birth she had prayed for. In the patriarchal Hindu tradition, it was expected that the sons would take care of her in her old age and perform her last rites when she died.


But her sons resented her dependence after her husband’s death. “I couldn’t take the fights anymore. So, I left,” she said, as she wiped her tears with a corner of her saree and hugged me tightly. Fifteen years ago, Geeta Bai left her village, traveling hundreds of miles, after hearing stories about a place where “widows like her could find shelter. “I’m hungry for love,” said the 80-year-old widow, casting her glance around the large dormitory, where at least thirty other women are sitting or lying in silence on their beds. Geeta Bai held my hand and let out sobs that shook her frail body. Her family has not visited or ever inquired about her since she left. The story of others is no different. Vrindavan continues to draw thousands of widows, who, within India’s patriarchal tradition, lose their sole means of survival and protection after their husbands’ death. When abandoned by their surviving family, many women, hearing about this place of shelter, head to Lord Krishna’s city, seeking refuge from a male God, who, in the Hindu tradition symbolizes divine love.


Bai and her roommates live side by side on beds arranged closely in two parallel rows. Their few belongings – some clothes, and a few prayer books – are stacked on a corner of their beds. The space under the bed is used for storing a small stove and some items for cooking. The air in the room is thick with an odd mixture of smells: old clothes, disinfectant, and the stench of urine. In many ways, it resembles the bleak wards in India’s public hospitals, except that most people in those hospitals would have a home to go back to.

A deep melancholic silence pervades the room. As a way to fill up their day, the caretakers of the home have handed these women slim notebooks, in which they repeatedly write the name of Lord Rama several times a day. As I enter, a few women are trying to write the God’s name. Some are chanting it. Most are simply lying on their beds. Chandrawati, who has been living there for the past 15 years, has occasionally visited her sons. “But I don’t like it there,” she says. Bankumari came about five years ago and has not heard from her family since then. Gauri Devi left her home about 20 years ago.

Among the throng of devotees in Vrindavan, the widows are easily recognized by their attire; their white cotton sarees are considered traditional dress for a Hindu woman following her husband’s death. As evening descends, these women start to fill up the many temples. The bhajans (holy songs) that they will sing for the next few hours in praise of the Lord will earn them a few cents’ worth of rice and lentils as the day’s meal. Those unable to find a place in a temple will beg for food or money from the thousands of devotees who throng the city at all times. As demand for shelter far outstrips the supply, not all who enter the city are fortunate enough to find a bed and shelter.

IMG_3821“I am here for Krishna’s love,” says Kamala Bai, who is without shelter and begging for food on a narrow street outside Radha Rani temple. Squatting alongside are many others in similar conditions of desperation. They are half covered with their sarees, their upper garments missing, showing visibly starved bodies. Lord Krishna and his consort, Radha, remain their only hope. “The Lord will look after me,” says Sharda Bai. In one hand she holds a metal pot, in which some passing devotees may toss a few coins. In the other, she holds a stick, used to scare away the hundreds of monkeys present in the city; unchecked, they will prey on the widows’ food. “Take off your glasses,” she urges me, while pointing at the monkeys. “If they don’t find food on you, they will take whatever else you have.” With no place in the widows’ homes, these women share the space on the streets, with these simians and others.

Despite India’s promising economic development, the condition of widows, who flock to the city, mostly from the eastern state of West Bengal, has not changed in the past several decades. In the absence of any formal social security systems, temples of Vrindavan have become the place of refuge for aging women, once they lose the sole means of their livelihood, which often are their husbands. This is thus the common thread in all life stories here. Each woman has a story to tell of maltreatment or abandonment by her surviving family. Almost all of them tell their stories with remarkable restraint as they choose not to complain. But the pain of abandonment surfaces in their words, tears or even their silence.

IMG_3828In this city of teeming devotees, the women are alone. With no family around them that would give them a purpose to live, the widows spend their living days waiting for their death. Bai keeps a portrait of Krishna by her side and prays to him to call her back to his abode soon. “There is nothing for me to look forward to. All my desires have ended,” she says with a sadness that does not speak of renunciation, often believed to be the reason for the women choosing to live in Vrindavan. Their last rites are performed by NGOs.

The dormitories that I visited are among the many that have come up in the city; some are run by NGOs and some by the state government. Despite the shelters, deprivation remains acute. Winnie Singh, who started an NGO, Maitri (Friendship) in 2008, says, while summing up the condition of widows: “I witnessed a near stampede, when we were distributing food, for just half a kilogram of grain. And most of the women were so emaciated, they could not even lift the grain.”

At times, the widows try to exchange the food they get for other necessities. “They were extremely malnourished, yet we noticed they were selling the grain to get a little money,” said Singh. To Singh, the condition of the widows speaks to the violence against women that has been getting some attention of late. “It is an extension of the same violence against women, that we see in India, but in a different form,” says Singh.

In India’s patriarchal society, women accused of stepping outside of tradition are often “punished” in various ways. Ironically, these widows have complied with every tradition known to them, yet they suffer severe poverty. According to Hindu theology, caring for one’s parents alone is said to result in accumulation of good karma, the fruits of which are to be enjoyed not only in this life, but in the many to come in the cycle of birth and rebirth. Thus a mother is traditionally given the highest place in a person’s life, and cared for after a father’s death. But here, in India’s sacred town, the presence of desperate “widows” in large numbers illustrates the necessity of programs towards economic empowerment of women that can address the needs of different generations as well.

Match your donation to Maitri up to 30% on GlobalGiving today!

Maitri Ghar

Savitri Dassi has been living in Radhakund for past 30 years. Though she has three daughters and one son she has been living alone because of the humiliation, dishonor and abuse she faced at the hands of her son. She cannot even live with her own daughters because of the patriarchal cultural belief that a married woman may not support her parents financially. Hungry and destitute, Savitri’s faith in Lord Krishna brought her to Radhakund and she believes that if she prays to him here then she will not be born with the same fate in her next birth.  Now Savitri is a part of Maitri Ghar and is provided with security, comfort and hope.

Without the support of donors like YOU this journey of caring for destitute and elderly widow mothers like Savitri would not be a reality. Because of your generosity, Maitri has been able to construct a safe, hygienic and comfortable home for 100 elderly widows. Further more, Maitri Ghar is also providing improved facilities like toilets, electricity and running water and support services of doctors that will help restore a life of dignity and care for these marginalized and impoverished widows. Maitri is also providing essentials for life including daily midday meals, nutritional supplements, clothing and healthcare. Construction of the Old Age Home has brought a great extent of comfort for the widows’ safety and their mobility has increased incredibly. Now their life does not come to a standstill after dusk and women are seen talking and leisurely walking through the evening. Problems with snakes bite, and other dangerous animals have reduced and all rooms are highly ventilated giving a sense of security and comfort.

Today, we again would like to invite you to support our cause on Global Giving’s Bonus Day to have your contribution matched by 30% beginning 15th Oct 2014, 6:30pm IST until 16th October 2014, 9:30am IST. Your support will go a long way in sustaining the help we provide to widows in need. Lastly, thank you for recognizing our vision and we look forward to your continued support!

With gratitude,

Run for Abandoned Widows!



Maitri is running in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon 2014!

Your ongoing support for our work has been a great encouragement to us.This year will be our first year of participating in the Airtel Delhi Half Marathon and we want you to join us!

Through this event Maitri is raising funds to help us cover the costs of running our shelter for 100 abandoned and destitute widow mothers in Vrindavan.

Please do support us this year. Make a donation of as much as you can afford; and if you can run with us we would be delighted.

To register to run call ADHM Event Helpline No :- +91 96500 33333 (Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 7 pm) or visit

To donate to or raise funds for Maitri whether you’d like to run or not visit


Vote for Maitri in GlobalGiving’s Photo Contest

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Dear Maitri Friend, 
Abandoned by her own family she begs on the streets of Vrindavan, a holy city in the state of Uttar Pradesh, #India. With no one to care for her after the death of her husband she is now a destitute widow in search of peace during the sunset years of her life. 

Maitri has been committed to caring for such elderly women since 2010. This week we are featured in GlobalGiving’s photo contest and could receive $1000 to help abandoned widows have a dignified life. 

Take a moment to vote for us here and then share the link on your timeline too.

We appreciate your support and thank you for making a difference.
With gratitude,
Maitri India

Inauguration of MaitriGhar and Ageing Resource Centre

Maitri would like to thank all of our followers and partners for your continued support that has enabled us to bring to reality a dream project, Maitri Ghar, an old age home for 100 widow mothers & an Ageing Resource Center for research and capacity building for care of elderly. Maitri Ghar was inaugurated on the 16th of August 2014 in Vrindavan, Mathura. We thank those who were present to share in this great milestone.


Delhi Police to get Rs 40 cr under women safety programme

Last Updated: Sunday, August 10, 2014, 15:45


New Delhi: Delhi Police will get Rs 40 crore to implement the United Nations Women Safe City project to put in place enhanced security apparatus for women in the national capital.
The amount, approved by the Department of Electronics and Information Technology with the assistance of World Bank, will be spent mainly to procure electronic gadgets to prevent crime against women and detect those involved in such crime.

CCTV cameras, surveillance equipment, high-speed vehicles with emergency gadgets will be purchased with the sanctioned funds.

“An amount of Rs 14.745 crore has already been granted to the Delhi Police as part of the first phase of the project,” a Home Ministry official said.

Interestingly, the fact-sheet on US-Japan Global and Regional Cooperation, released on April 25, 2014, makes a reference to the two countries’ support to the UN Women Safe Cities Programme in Delhi, which is part of UN Women Safe City Free of Violence Against Women Global Programme.

The announcement was made during the last visit of US President Barack Obama to Tokyo.

The UN Entity for Gender Quality and Empowerment of Women has also approached the Delhi government for signing of an aspirational generalised Memorandum of Understanding for safe city programme for future collaboration.

“The overall objective of this programme is to strive to eliminate violence against women and girls,” the Home Ministry official said.

Crime against women in Delhi got renewed global attention after the December 16, 2012 gang rape of a young women that evoked strong outrage across the world.


First Published: Sunday, August 10, 2014, 15:45