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Vrindavan, the childhood home of Lord Krishna, is also the abode of his romance with beloved Radha. The city has hundreds of temples and ashrams. The air is filled with chants and mantras. Foreign tourists, in colourful attire, walk through the narrow lanes of the city and greet you with “Radhey Radhey”.

But besides the colour and religious fervour, there is also a sea of “white shadows” in the city. These are the widows of Vrindavan.

After marriage, a woman is supposed to deck herself in colourful attire, wear ornaments and flowers, put sindoor, the symbol of her marriage. But according to old customs which are still followed by many, everything changes once the husband dies and widows are supposed to remain confined within their houses and just perform puja.
The poorest of poor Hindu widows are shunned by the society, as they are seen as a financial drain on their family. Thousands of them lie abandoned in the holy city of Vrindavan.
According to surveys, at least 15,000 widows are living in the city. Most of them are forced to beg on streets for their sustenance.
The Supreme Court recently took strong exception to the manner in which the bodies of widows, who lived in government shelter homes at Vrindavan, were disposed by putting them in gunny bags and dumping them in the Yamuna, due to lack of money for proper cremation. The court expressed serious concern over lack of provision of food as well.
The court had asked National Legal Service Authority (NALSA) to contact the NGO Sulabh International to find out whether they could come forward to help the widows living in four government shelters at Vrindavan. According to Brindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh, things have changed to quite an extent. “Now, the widows are spending their time within ashrams, not begging any more on the streets. They watch TV and chant bhajans within their ashrams. Now the focus will be to impart education and training so that they get back their self-confidence,” said Dr Pathak.

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