Standing at the base of the Eiffel Tower and posing for shutterbugs in the French capital in the twilight of their lives had them elated.
Ghosh and Sheel were invited to one of Europe’s biggest exhibitions of photographs–the Montier-en-Der photography festival from November 17 to 21.They represented the Vrindavan widows, who were the subject of some exhibits. During their stay in Paris, they interacted with people from diverse nationalities and have created unforgettable memories.
“It was not just a foreign trip for us. The whole tour provided an international platform to us. We got respect which we deserve. I got an opportunity to represent thousands of widows of Vrindavan and Varanasi at the international festival,” said a delighted Ghosh.
The Paris trip has boosted her self-confidence and induced belief in herself and her abilities, she said, with Sheel in agreement.
“I will try to infuse the same vigour in other inmates of the Meerasahbhagini Ashram,” said the 93-year-old.
Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of the NGO that has set up the ashrams, said, “Manu Ghosh is well-known among ashram inmates as a volunteer.She speaks up about the cause of the widows and has travelled to various places in India to represent the widows of Vrindavan and Varanasi. She and Gaurvani Sheel are from West Bengal and share a strong bond due to their origin and common fate. They make up a formidable combination.”
Widows at the ashram have broken several barriers to get even the littlest of joys others take for granted. For example, celebrating festivals like Holi and Diwali. A trip like this, naturally, is a strong boost to their self-esteem.
“The trip was arranged to give these women the message that they are not neglected,” says Pathak.
Widows from several parts of the country make Vrindavan their home to live a life of austerity and quietude. Considered inauspicious by their families, they head to the city of Lord Krishna after being ostracised in their villages. Most of them are banished from property or any kind of family income.Some of them are even teenagers.
Celebrating a festival, dressing up or generally expressing joy were considered taboos for them until not long ago. However, with society evolving and even the intervention of the Supreme Court, social organisations and individuals, things are changing. In the Vrindavan ashram, widows get a healthcare and vocational training apart from lessons in Hindi, Bengali and English -for which they have special teachers. But, there is still a long way to go.
For now, events and opportunities like this trip will go a long way to give these women a sense of achievement, belonging and a feelingthat they are not unwanted.
Originally Published In The Times Of India