South Asian Conference Capacity Building of Marginalized Women: Widow
Plenary-Day 1 -International Testimony of Widows
1st-3rd February 2002, New Delhi
North East of India
DAY 1 OF PLENARY SESSION CONTINUED . . .
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
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
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
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
- 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
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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