By October this year, 1,000 widows in Vrindavan will have a decent place to live. Much before that several ‘ashrams’ there which are home to thousands of destitute women will have Water Purifying Systems, solar power plants and many other facilities. The huge shelter home to be constructed by the Union Women and Child Development Ministry and the facilities announced by the Akhilesh Yadav-government just this week will, no doubt, bring some relief to thousands of women who have made the streets of Vrindavan their home for years. But these women need much more than just this. Help comes to widows as charity and not out of a sense of responsibility towards them or because they deserve to live with dignity. Whatever is being done by the governments appears to be too little, too late. So far, whatever efforts have been made are by non-governmental organizations. These, too, are in silos, not concerted and coordinated.
Many groups working for the welfare these widows have often disagreed with each other. While some work on the policy of empowering women by making them economically independent, there are others who believe many of these are very old to be skilled now and need monthly maintenance in addition to shelter and medical facilities. Just as the Union Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi laid the foundation of the 1,000 capacity special shelter home under ‘Swadhar Greh Scheme’â€”the largest one to be established or funded by the government â€“ social activist Mohini Giri shot off a letter to the Minister asking her to ensure that the women were skilled and empowered and not made dependent on doles as was being done by Mr Bindeshwar Pathak.
Reminding Ms Gandhi that as Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment, she had funded shelter homes for widows including Ma Dham â€“ being managed by her â€“ Ms Giri said that over 2000 women had been empowered by imparting skills at the homes and many of who were now employed or self-employed. There was also a huge sanitary napkin collection centre which sold sanitary napkins in the rural areas at a cost of Re 1 per piece. Ms Giri has further reminded the Minister that there were five other shelter homes in Vrindavan which needed much to be desired and asked her to make a surprise check at these homes so that the real condition of these shelter homes is known. She points out that these were being run by the tax-payers money and hence needed to be held accountable.
Regretting to inform that these widows had picked up a habit of picking up doles and collecting charity by way of Rs 2,000 being distributed by Mr Bindeshwar Pathak. “”While I appreciated the sentiment behind the doles, this has transformed many widows into lazy women and are not willing to be empowered,”” she said while adding that they collected the doles given as sarees, utensils, blankets and such things which were then sold in the market instead of being used while in some case the children of these women came every month to collect the cash while suggesting that empowering women was more sustainable and dignified than living on charity. Mr Pathak Â has been giving cash in addition to other facilities to over 2,000 widows in Vrindavan and Varanasi after the Supreme Court directed his organization to provide welfare of the widows.
The governmentâ€™s, on their part, have failed to rise to the occasion and draft a concrete policy or scheme for rehabilitation of these hapless women. In fact, the only time the governments intervened was when the Supreme Court called for a survey of the shelter homes and the condition of women living in there. The report presented a pathetic condition of the women â€“ particularly after death as the report revealed bodies of these women were chopped to pieces and disposed off in garbage as there was no provision for their cremation, and no one would spend money on this. These women have been there for decadesâ€”surviving on alms, charity and pity. The U.P Government never considered that these women needed more than charity, and neither did the other State from where they come, particularly West Bengal from where more than 80 per cent of these women come. Ideally, respective State governments should ensure that destitute, abandoned and widows are looked after by the state by rehabilitating women who are abandoned by their children or who do not want to live with their families, and ensuring that they are skilled to earn a dignified living and their legal rights are protected.”