By Sakshi Upadhyaya
Edited by Namrata Caleb, Senior Editor, The Indian Economist
Have you ever visited Vrindavan, the holy city of Lord Krishna? Apart from the Govinda two other things will be distinctively noticeable: one, the devotees and two, women, generally old, clad in white saris with an extended chandan tilak running over their foreheads, who are usually eking out their livelihood by begging. Vrindavan is home to thousands of such destitute women. They are widowed and are relinquished by their families. Hailing from different states like West Bengal and Bihar, these women find shelter in the safe keeping of Govinda.
After being deserted by their families and having nearly spent their entire lives in the holy city, the fear of being rendered homeless again has been revived. This evoked fright stems from controversial statements made by the Bhartiya Janta Party MP Hema Malini. Her remarks on the widows, native of different states, crowding Vrindavan, attracted a lot of criticism. “If they are not from here then there is no need for them to come here from other states. There are many famous temples in Bengal and Bihar too”, she said on her visit to her parliamentary constituency Mathura, which also includes Vrindavan. Subsequent to such ignorant remarks, people may come to her rescue by apologizing or offering some sort of clarification, calling the comments misconstrued and blown out of proportion by the media, but one cannot help but ponder over the shallow and thoughtless approach behind such an incident.
India is a free country and it is the personal choice of an individual where he/she would want to stay. No intervention from anyone should be entertained as the citizens aren’t answerable on their prerogative at least. This is like categorization on the basis of geographic and cultural boundaries. Hema Malini, a native of Tamil Nadu, became the dream girl of India from Maharashtra and won the elections from a North Indian constituency. A statement like this, a portrayal of identity politics, was definitely not anticipated from someone possessing such a background. Vrindavan women are now even more vulnerable and marginalized.
Life in Vrindavan for these women is far from repose and the state of having a sense of security is a far fetched reality. It is nothing more than exploitation, torment and daily struggle for survival. Being punished for an eventuality which wasn’t in their hands, they live a life of shadows. Abandoned by their own people, these women live with forgotten identities and a deep consuming sadness prevailing within the void of their hearts. They are too old to be casted out in the twilight years of their lives, giving them unnecessary anxiety of leaving the only place they could take refuge in. Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’ is a heart-touching and realistically poignant depiction of the plight of these deprived women, having innocent desires of looking beautiful, growing hair or simply being able to smile all of which are forcefully suppressed.
When will the discernment, categorization and objectification of women cease to exist? When will their social acceptability and worth stop being measured based on the institution of marriage? What is inauspicious about these widowed women? A strong revaluation is required because as long as a woman’s worth is based on whether her husband died before her, whether she gave birth to a male progeny or the amount of dowry she brought along, the plight of women will continue. Let women feel happy about themselves instead of cursing oneself for being born a woman. We need to accept them as the part of our society, bringing them into the mainstream and if one is incapable of doing any good then unwanted intervention should be kept at bay. Being a woman is a painfully beautiful experience. Let us allow all the women to celebrate their womanhood sans any distinction. It is the only thing that will be instrumental in terminating the abominable saga.
Sakshi Upadhyaya is a pre final year student pursuing mechanical engineering from RKGIT, Ghaziabad. Passionate about sports like badminton and tennis, she is an ardent reader and dreams of building up her personal library. She firmly believes that the pen is the mighty sword that can instigate social reformations.