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South Asian Conference Capacity Building of Marginalized Women: Widow
Conference Report-II
Plenary-Day 1 -International Testimony of Widows
1st-3rd February 2002, New Delhi

Sri Lanka
North East of India



Lily Thapa made the presentation for Nepal. She began by saying, "Subordination, domination, suppression, oppression, dukan (witch), husband killer. There are many adjectives for the widow, but nothing that conveys dignity."

Life for widows in Nepal too is just like what we have been hearing from India. The plight of widows cannot be put into one category, there are so many factors that determine her condition. She is not welcome both by her husband's family and at her parental home. She is unwanted everywhere as she is viewed as a burden. If she is wanted it is only to keep the property and other assets within the family so "Leviratic marriages" are common and encouraged.

The Nepali widow is psychologically crushed after the death of her husband. She is already a poor woman and becomes poorer as the only source of income that the family has, has been cut off. There is an acceptance of all this suffering as it is put down to "suffering from sins committed from the previous life." Their lives can be comparable to Living Sati.

More recently, insurgency has increased the number of widows in Nepal.

Rukshanda Naz made the presentation for Pakistan. She said, "The situation of widows in Pakistan is comparable to another kind of Sati." They lead isolated lives, they are poor, unwanted and miserable. Society excludes them from marriage ceremonies or other happy occasions. A widow cannot touch the "marriage" clothes of the daughter or daughter-in-law who is to be soon wed. Widows are discouraged from wearing bright clothes, from going out alone, from talking to other men and harassed for the simplest reasons. If we look at the situation of women in general, 30,000 women die in Pakistan every year. 67% of women are illiterate. This is the reflection of a society that is uncaring about women.

While widow remarriage has societal and religious sanction, women are not very happy when they remarry. Men prefer wives a lot younger than themselves, so the widow's choice of partner is restricted. Either she accepts to being the second wife, or she is married off to a widower with many children. Many times she is forced into a leviratic relationship, that the brother-in-law is too young or too old, is hardly of consequence.

Customary Law has always prevailed over the Shariyat Law or the civil law, so a widow is rarely able to exercise and get her rights. Men control everything in the lives of women. The legislature too is biased.

Sri Lanka:

Wickrama Dulin Nona De Silva made the presentation for Sri Lanka, "I am a widow but I have never been starved, or ever discriminated against."

Srilanka has a population of 19 million people. It is a multi-religious society that recently has been through political unrest. 53% of the population of Sri Lanka is made up of women; there is an overall literacy rate of 88%. Average life expectancy is 75 years.

In our country there has been death and destruction of thousands of women due to the highly unstable political scenario since the past many years. In Batticoloa alone there are 1000 widows; 400,000 women live in shelters across the country.

On one hand the status of women is high, but if you look at the decision making powers, Sri Lankan women have none. There is differentiation in property rights. As in other countries of South Asia a widow is considered inauspicious, not part of any social functions and seeing a widow's face in the morning is assumed to bring bad luck. Other male members consider a woman without a man, unprotected and subject her to unnecessary harassment. Remarriage in some communities is accepted; a man can enter a relationship with a widow.

Pension schemes for widows are in place provided the widow has a legal marriage certificate. However, this scheme is often misused. If the woman is the widow of a person who has been in the armed forces, she receives a comfortable pension. The deceased husband's family never encourages the widow to marry, as they want a hold on her pension.


Dr. Girija Dhar, Chairperson of the State Commission of Women, Jammu and Kashmir made a special intervention an invitation by the organizers. She said, "Widows of Kashmir do not wear white . . . but widows of Kashmir have been created and are being created every day.

Armed militancy began a decade ago in Kashmir and now has extended up to Jammu. It is estimated that 10 to 15 thousand women have become widows due to armed conflict. These widows are created, lives are scattered overnight. The condition of widows is as miserable as in other states, with the woman shattered both economically and psychologically. By far the worst humiliation that a woman has to suffer is when she is told that her husband is an informer. Even if the husband is innocent she remains with that stigma forever. Worse, however, are the wives of men who are killed due to stray bullets. They never get any compensation.

North East of India:

Kim Gangte, former MP made an intervention on invitation by the organizers for North East of India. She said, "North East of India has problems very typical to that area, it has always remained isolated from the rest of the country. Its geographical distance can be best understood when we begin to travel form North East to New Delhi. It takes 3-4 days if we are lucky and if we get train connections on time."

The number of widows has been steadily increasing here due to:

  • Communal clashes
  • Drug abuse
  • Insurgency
  • Armed forces special powers act (in order to track down militants and extremists, the army has killed many innocent people- this has been another major cause for the increase of widows).

Manipur is in the golden triangle of drug trade. Being close to Myanmar, drugs are very easily available. This has given rise to the increase of aIDS and HIV. Many women have been widowed due to AIDS; they suffer worse humiliation when they themselves are diagnosed with AIDS or as carriers of HIV. Women are completely disrespected in such cases.

Women have no skills to earn their living. The only skill they have is making charcoal. They go into the forests and spend 3-4 days there. They cut down trees and chop wood. A pit is made and the wood burned to make charcoal. They return to civilization only to sell the charcoal for small amounts.

Some measures that can bring about change:

  • Women must support one another when in trouble
  • There should be awareness programmes
  • Social and economic upliftment
  • Government should be made more sensitive to the trauma of widowhood

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