Thursday, July 05, 2007

"Oh this kind of stuff doesn't happen anymore"

I was at my favorite Indian restaurant a week or so back (actually, to pick up some samosas for J's farewell party, before she left for India). They had Deepa Mehta's "Water" showing on the TV, and Mrs. K (the proprietor's wife) and I struck up a conversation about the movie. She hadn't seen the whole thing, but found it a little troubling. Especially that this is the image of India that Westerners would be left with. "That's all they'll think of us -- we're poor and backwards and treat women that way. Tell me, do you know of any widow that is treated that way as they show in the movie? I certainly don't!" she exclaimed. I nodded sympathetically and reminded her that the film is set in the early 20th century. Attitudes have surely changed somewhat, and though I haven't witnessed this kind of ostracism of widows, I'm sure that it still exists in India. India is such a contradiction. So many different layers. So many different attitudes. The centuries blur and cultural and religious practices that can be traced back centuries if not millennia co-exist with Western modernity. People who live in close proximity to each other inhabit such different universes at times.

So, it was hardly a surprise that I saw this CNN story in my inbox, sent by a friend who wondered whether my newly widowed mother would face such treatment. Not in the least.
These Hindu widows, the poorest of the poor, are shunned from society when their husbands die, not for religious reasons, but because of tradition -- and because they're seen as a financial drain on their families.

They cannot remarry. They must not wear jewelry. They are forced to shave their heads and typically wear white. Even their shadows are considered bad luck.

Hindus have long believed that death in Vrindavan will free them from the cycle of life and death. For widows, they hope death will save them from being condemned to such a life again.

"Does it feel good?" says 70-year-old Rada Rani Biswas. "Now I have to loiter just for a bite to eat."

Biswas speaks with a strong voice, but her spirit is broken. When her husband of 50 years died, she was instantly ostracized by all those she thought loved her, including her son.

"My son tells me: 'You have grown old. Now who is going to feed you? Go away,' " she says, her eyes filling with tears. "What do I do? My pain had no limit."


angelmeg said...

In this country we just push them into "retirement homes" and leave them there so they are out of the way.

Not much different, perhaps a little more compassion but not much.

Gashwin said...

Yeah Maggie, the treatment of the elderly is pretty pathetic in general here as well. However, having been in a few nursing homes, I think it's fair to say that it's better that there's not the kind physical deprivation that this article talks about. Nor is there the kind of attitude towards widows specifically (not all of whom are elderly, mind you. The one depicted in Deepa Mehta's "Water" is barely a teen), which is what the article was about.