Hindu widows, the poorest of the poor, are shunned from society when their husbands die – not for religious reasons, but because of tradition and because they are seen as a financial drain on their families. They cannot remarry. They are invisible to society. Even their shadows are considered bad luck. With little social or economic status, many become destitute, living in the streets.Show more
For the estimated 40 million widows in India, this is a harsh reality.
In India, a woman is respected only if she is a mother, daughter and wife. Since women in India are often married off at a young age instead of being educated, they usually lack the skills and knowledge to fend for themselves economically and fight for their basic rights. When a man dies, his widow is seen as bad luck; she is shunned from her community and exiled from family and friends. She is no longer welcome in the homes of those who once loved her. Her presence at family functions is totally forbidden. Most times her grown children even turn her away. The situation is even more extreme within India’s rural community, where it is much more tradition-bound; in urban areas, there are more chances and possibilities to live a normal life.
But the majority of India’s 1.1 billion population is rural.
While in some areas in India, widows may be allowed to keep their hair and dress in colored saris, the custom in many communities dictates that she is to shave her head, loose all adornments such as flowers and bangles and must wear white clothing until the end of her days. It is not customary for a widow to remarry, no matter how young she is, though a widower may remarry as often as he likes. Many widows no longer have a life they wish to live for.
Most widows feel this struggle is unbearable so they leave to go to the holy cities, hoping death will free them. With no education or employable skill they go to ashrams (spiritual communities) where, if fortunate, they may find shelter in structures built more than a century ago. These cramped, leaky spaces accommodate about three women each, who sleep on torn sacks. Here they may sing and pray for hours each day for a meager ration of food. If they are unable to sing, they will not receive anything to eat that day. A large number of widows stay on the streets and beg for alms, while some younger attractive widows are sold into prostitution.
Although a possibility often exists for a widow to receive a very small pension, the task of accessing that pension is a Herculean task. Applying for a pension means proving destitution, attaining written forms that are not easily available, presenting proof of age and traveling to government offices far off from their villages. The widow, most often illiterate, must pay a private doctor if she is to obtain a birth certificate. In the end, her application may be rejected as there is a great deal of arbitrariness as to whether the widow is truly destitute. Many widows simply give up or don’t even try due to the complications of dealing with the government. Others may simply be too ill or mentally and/or physically disabled to deal with the process or even know it exists.
The widows of India can be helped to attain the ability to become active and valuable community members. We can bestow our kindness and caring upon them to aid the widows in enriching their lives.
There is always hope wherever there is effort.
Our association “OM SHANTHI e.V. – Help for widows in India” was founded in September 2013.We support widows and destitute single women and their children in the rural outskirts of Tiruvannamalai as well as in town until they are able to independently care for themselves. We provide financial support for the children´s education and if needed for medical treatment of the little family. We give counsel to young widows and support their formal education and training by enabling them to earn a living. Our help builds and restores their self-esteem along with respect from their community.Show more
Our Indian socialworkers further assist young and old widows to apply for their small pension from the government of Tamil Nadu.
Our Om Shanthi Old Age Home is a refuge center, where sick homeless abandonned old women without a family can spend the rest of their lifes in peace and joy. We provide medical treatment, food, lodging and loving care as well as necessary ceremonies for their funeral and related expenses.
We work in close collaboration with MANGALAM WELFARE SOCIETY and PREMALAYA HANDICRAFT TRUST in Tiruvannamalai. Both organizations are born (2019) out of SHANTHIMALAI HANDICRAFTS DEVELOPMENT SOCIETY, which was our old and dear partnerorganization from the beginning of our work. Mr. Manoharan and Lioba are the heart and soul of our work on the spot of Tiruvannamalai.
Founder Anna Etter…Show more
Deeply moved by the suffering of an old woman lying in the street of Tiruvannamalai Anna Etter got some insight into the widows´plight. Immediately in 2007 she began a grassroots effort to raise money for the Indian widows. Together with Shanthimalai Ashram and in collaboration with Shanthimalai Handicrafts Development Society we try since then to change minds and save lives by caring for old and young widows, so that superstition and prejudices disappear and widows are integrated into normal life to support their little family.
Good news for USA donors:
Your donation is now tax-deductible in the USA! ARUNA PARTNERSHIP is our partner in the USA. Checks may be sent to:
Om Shanthi Project
c/o Kate Butler
432 West Durham Street
Philadelphia, PA 19119 USA
To make online donations: www.arunapartnership.org/donate.htm
Journeys of Solutions
“Journeys of Solutions” is also a non-profit organization,and provides a 501c3 “umbrella” for grass-roots organizations such as the “Widows of India”. Please do also mention “Om Shanthi Project”.
Go to: www.journeysofsolutions.com for online-donations.
With this Paypal-Button you can donate directly to Om Shanthi NGO in Germany. Your kind donation is highly appreciated.