Vrindavan, the Indian holy city, where Hindus believe Krishna grew up and is home to the Hare Krishna movement is also the City of Widows. The city is home to an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 widows, begging on the streets and getting accommodation where they can. One widow, Sarwihawti 85, originally from Kolkata, had spent the last 25 years subsisting on the streets after being thrown out of her home by her son on her husbands death. She, like many others was told to go to Vrindravan and endure the centuries old traditional faith of women like; ‘to take baksheesh’ in other words to beg on the streets for alms from the thousands of pilgrims that throng to the holy sites in the city or are completing the 15 kilometer pilgrimage around Vrindravan and nearby Mathura, the birthplace of Krishna. Coming predominately from West Bengal, the women tell stories of being ill-treated, derided and some cases starved by their husbands families.
The widows can earn a pittance at the Bhajanashrams that dot Vrindravan, the most famous being Sri Bagwan Bhajan Ashram where in exchange for singing an chanting Bhajan hymns the women are given a handful of rice and Rs 10 – 15, about 20 cent US. The Ashrams also provide dilapidated accommodation which is pathetic, over crowded with only the most basic of amenities. According to recent report filed by the District Legal Services Authority, a sweeper had to be paid R 200 to take her body, cut it into pieces, stuff these in a sack and dump them in the Yammuna river. Both NGO’s and State government of Uttar Pradesh are working towards providing more accommodation and medical support for these vulnerable elderly women and their reintegration into society but what also is needed is the criminalization of the tradition. The NCW recommended fixing of liability on the children under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007 to precisely this
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