For the Vrindavan widows who arrived here on Sunday to celebrate Durga Puja, the return home after a long gap was mixed with joy and resentment alike.
The women poured their hearts out to reporters, recalling the tough life they left behind when they left West Bengal. None of them was here to stay, they clarified. Very few family members came to see them though they had been informed by sponsors about the visit.
Lalita Adhikari (104) — the eldest in the 50-women group — bluntly told her son, who had turned up at the Kolkata airport on Sunday intending to take her home, that she had not come to visit him. “Where was he when things were difficult for me? Now that life is easy and comfortable, he wants me back,” she told this correspondent. The Hindu is travelling with this group on the invitation of Sulabh International.
All the women said they had suffered insult and humiliation from their families — after they were widowed and were treated as inauspicious.
The discrimination forced them to flee to pilgrim towns like Varanasi, Mathura and Vrindavan. In these places of refuge, hundreds of widows lead isolated lives in small rooms situated in narrow alleys in unhygienic conditions. They spend most of their time praying and begging in the streets in the absence of any family support.
Around 95 per cent of the 900 widows living in Vrindavan are from West Bengal, says Sulabh International founder Bindeshwar Pathak.
The Supreme Court had last year directed the National Legal Service Authority to rehabilitate them with the help of SI.
Besides health and medical facilities, the NGO now provides Rs. 2,000 per month as pension to each widow. It has also trained and employed hundreds of them in making garlands, preparing incense sticks, sewing and embroidery work.
Octogenarian Manu Ghosh said she cannot forget the trauma she was forced to undergo by her family after she was widowed. “I got married when I was only 11 and was widowed at 25. I was then forced to leave my home and I took a train to Vrindavan,” Ms. Ghosh said.
Lalita recounted how she had left her home for Vrindavan, all by herself, 35 years ago. “I earned Rs.1.25 per day working as a casual labourer in the glass-manufacturing industry but was unable to make both ends meet. So I sought salvation in the land of Krishna and used to beg in the streets.”