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
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
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.
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
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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