At the Government’s instruction, the Chaitanya Vihar Widows’ Ashram is making arrangements to send widows back to their homes wherever possible. Several families have been contacted and some have made the trip to Vrindavan to take their mother home.
While many widows come to Braj after being mistreated, abused and accused of being a burden, others come by choice. Many are happy to do bhajan in Braj and have formed close friendships with the other widows in the ashram.
Now, the widows in the Government ashram are being encouraged to return to their relatives. Gita Dikshit, Superintendent of the Government Women’s Shelter in Chaitanya Vihar, said that, on the instructions of the government, the work of rehabilitation of mothers in the house has started.
Sushma Mandal’s son, Sivananda Hari, never married and has an ashram in Muzaffarnagar, UP. On Tuesday he came to the shelter to pick up his 80 year old mother. Sushma has been in Vrindavan for 11 years, after travelling here from Bengal.
The widows in the ashram are in an extremely vulnerable position. It is unlikely that anyone will check on their welfare after they return to their family, so, they can only hope that they will be treated with love and respect. If they suffer ill treatment once again, it will be extremely difficult for them to make the journey to the shelter of Braj for a second time.
Many of the widows who are being sent home, have been in Vrindavan for many years, so they are older and weaker than when they first came to Braj. Many made the journey alone after being unable to physically or mentally suffer the abuse from callous family members and some were dropped here by relatives.
Even when widows agree to go back to their families, they are sad to be separated from those they have spent many years of their life with in the shelter. Those who came to Braj looking for spiritual as well as material shelter are also being deprived of the chance to live and die in the Holy Dham.
Widows come to Braj for a variety of reasons. Here are some of their stories:
Lakshmi Upadhaya, 50 Years – From Tragedy to Violence
“My parents married me off when I was very young and had my first child at age 15. My husband was a daily wage laborer and an alcoholic. Our family was very poor and my husband died early. After my sons got married, they and their families did not treat me well and I was often left to starve.
I suffered many indignities because of my situation, most of which were by my very own family. When they started beating me, I left my home because I could not bear the dishonor shown towards me by my own sons and my daughter-in-laws. Family is supposed to help and support one another, but my family saw me as a grave burden. I came to Vrindavan 4 years ago and have stayed in dilapidated hovels ever since. To survive, I worked as a domestic help and am forced to beg at times for food. I do not have my family’s contact details and do not want to be in touch with them after how they treated me when I needed them most.”
Lakshmi’s testimony shows how family can become disdainful and even violent towards widows after their husbands’ passing. Rather than help the widow through this life-changing event, often the family treats the widow as a burden. Unfortunately, this attitude can lead to violence and abuse, and cuts off a widow from her once close family. For Lakshmi, she fled and cut ties with her abusive family, and has to support herself.
Dhanwanti – at last she found happiness
Dhanwanti was a bride at fifteen and a widow at eighteen years of age. After three years of their marriage, her husband succumbed to malaria leaving behind Dhanwanti and their two- year-old daughter and four-month-old son.
Illiterate and unskilled, Dhanwanti was economically dependent on her husband. After her husband’s death, she had no other choice but to return to her parents along with her two children.
Dhanwanti’s life revolved around raising her two children. Her only goal in life was to see her children married and settled. She placed their happiness above her own. Her family was very accommodating and supported Dhanwanti in every possible way.
Finally, when her children came of age, Dhanwanti managed to choose suitable partners for them and funded both the weddings. Once her children had left the nest, she found herself lonely and purposeless.
Fifteen years back, she decided to come to Vrindavan and devote rest of her life in pursuit of spirituality and peace. In Vrindavan, she rented a small room for a minimal amount and spent most of her time visiting temples in Vrindavan and singing devotional songs.
However, as years passed by the room rent kept increasing beyond her means. Thankfully, in 2013, Maitri India welcomed her to Maitri Ghar , a home for elderly and widow women in Radha Kund. “This is a home for me where I can rest, keep my belongings safely, avail facilities like clean bed covers, fan, filter water, hot water, clean bathroom etc. which otherwise I couldn’t afford.
Dhanwanti and hundred other widows living in the home also are provided with nutritious mid-day-meal, cotton sarees, and regular health check up.
Today, at the age of sixty-five, Dhanwantifinally lives for her own happiness. She chooses to live in Vrindavan as she draws immense joy and happiness in visiting temples and singing bhajans (devotional songs). Maitri Ghar has made it possible for her to continue to enjoy her stay in Varindavan and live comfortably, for which she is very grateful.
Parvathi Rani, 78 Years – Becoming a Burden
“I was married at the young age of 11. My husband was an alcoholic, a gambler and a womanizer. He did not support us financially. Life was very difficult with him, but was bad without him as well. When my husband died, he left me with the responsibility of taking care of our children. When my son got married, he and my daughter-in-law treated me with the utmost disrespect, beat me, and gave me no food. I feared for my life. Hence, with great difficulty I left to find somewhere where I could find safety.”
As her life unraveled, Parvathi continued to care for her children after her husband’s death, but once they found spouses of their own, she had outlived her usefulness in their eyes and had become a burden. The fear of violence by one’s own children, even after having raised them and cared for them, becomes a tragic reality for many widows.
Widows stories courtesy: Maitri Ghar