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South Asian Conference Capacity Building of Marginalized Women: Widow
Conference Report-V -- RELIGION AS A VEHICLE OF CHANGE
1st-3rd February 2002, New Delhi

RELIGION AS A VEHICLE OF CHANGE

Third Day

Swami Agnivesh began by remembering the plight of his widowed mother. "I remember the plight of my mother who became a widow at the age of 27 and her agony to bring up 5 children. In a joint family (a Brahmin family) how she was discriminated. My mother was not allowed by her in-laws to attend marriage ceremonies." Disciminating widows violate human rights. For example, the Preachers of religion blamed a 17-year-old girl whose husband died in 1987, for her husband's death. Women are always held responsible for all the vices in society.

The plight of child widows is miserable. They are woken up early in the morning at 4 o'clock, they take bath and wear white clothes and sit facing the wall until sunrise because their face is considered inauspicious.

Religious scriptures have to be questioned. We have to get out our blind faith in religion. Veda, Puran and other religious scriptures are distorted. Women do not have to rebel against the religion but against negative aspects of the religion. "We have to question it." Religion cannot be dogmatic and static. Anything in religion that is against the women should be challenged.

Peer Khwaja Ahmed Nizami spoke about the status of widows. "In Islam widows have haque (rights) if a widow is not given her due right then men are to be blamed for it."

A husband is responsible for his wife's rights. He should prepare a wasiyat (will) when living so that after his demise the wife does not have to suffer economically. Islam allows a widow to remarry outside her family (Nikah).

Justice can be done to a widow by giving her the due property right and not denying it by manipulation. The child is responsible for his or her widow mother in our religion. The widow, who by choice does not remarry, [in order] to bring up her children, has to be looked after by her son. The son should be told by the religious leaders that the real jihad is to look after his mother.

Religion as a vehicle of change - if religion is utilized in a proper manner - lots of changes can be brought in the society to improve the position of widows.

Swami Srivats Goswami from Vrindavan said, "I came from a family where the widow lady performs the rituals in the puja." Our concern should be to see why a widow is suffering -- we have to delve deeply to know about it and then bring change. Swami Srivats said to remove suffering - remove widowhood. An empowered widow told us remarriage is not the solution. A widower suffers less - a widow suffers more. Swami Srivats referred to Rama Vaidyanathan's dance and the poem "I Want to Live; I Want to Be", written by Meera Khanna. Her portrayal shows a woman with immense strength, and perseverence in her. She has an inherent strength to fight all evils and ills prevalent in the society around her. Religion cannot be a perpertrator or oppressor, but a rehabilitator. If religion and society are not synthesized properly the problem arises.

Lakshmi Swaminathan

I have worked for Dalits -- helped them getting their rights -- to put an end to slavery. I am very happy that Guild of Service along with UNIFEM has taken the initiative to organize this conference on "Capacity Building of Marginalized Women: Widows".

When the 17 year old girl was blamed for her husband's death, she cried bitterly and said, "I should have died with my husband rather than taking the blame for his death." The religious leaders forced this girl to perform Sati. They first mixed opium with sindoor and gave this mixture to her to drink (forced her to drink it); as she fell unconscious, oil and camphor was applied on her body so that her body catches fire easily. And thus Sati was completed. The whole village came with flowers to celebrate this occasion. The religious leaders announced a 14 day celebration. 70 lakh people gatthered to celebrate. It was a celebration, to worship the 17 year old girl being Sati. According to me it was a diabolical murder. Swami Nirananda, Principle of a College and a Sanskrit scholar told me once that it is the religious duty of a woman to burn herself on the funeral pyre of her husband.

I took out an 18 days protest march from Delhi to rebel against such attitudes of religious leaders about widows. Religious scriptures have to be questioned.

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