On June 12, 2015, Uttar Pradesh government agreed to give a pension to widows living in shelters organized by Maitri, a non-profit organization, in Vrindavan, according to its co-founder.
After writing and talking to the local government for five years, Maitri managed to get these women a 300-rupees-per-month pension. “This is not a big amount, but it gives them legitimacy,” said Winnie Singh, co-founder of Maitri, it is one more step forward for the Widows Of Vrindavan.
Widows in Vrindavan come mostly from Bengal, but more and more make the journey from other parts of the country. In Hindu conservative families, women lose their entire socioeconomic status the minute their husband dies. Even today, they are considered a burden by their children, who refuse to provide for them and sometimes abuse them verbally and physically.
Considered inauspicious and cast-out by their families, many of them seek refuge in Vrindavan. Vrindavan, considered the birthplace of Lord Krishna, is a renowned pilgrimage site for Hindus. In the rarely uncrowded temples all across town, the chanting is often the charge of the widows, entirely dressed in white, often elderly, who try to earn some money this way and regain some status. They earn Rs 6 a day after 8 hours of chanting but they are still ostracized and considered “untouchable” by many, said Winnie Singh. There are more than 15,000 widows in Vrindavan but the latest National Commission for Women report only counts 3000. There is in fact a difference in status for widows living in government-run ashrams and the others, who aren’t entitled to any status, according to Winnie Singh.
The non-profit she co-founded has been working to provide food and shelter for these widows. They have been organizing various fundraising events for the last six years, but this year, students at a high school in Davis County, Utah, decided to organize a fundraiser on their own. They were able to give $1300 to the non- profit, which they intended for winter supplies. Thanks to them, Maitri was able to give a blanket to every woman living under its wing.
The important thing here is that “they took an initiative and spread the word,” said Singh.
When asked about her hopes for Indian widows, Winnie Singh explains: “I would like to believe that one day they will regain their dignity.”