Project Jeevan – A Programme for Abandoned, Destitute, and Elderly Widows in Vrindavan
According to the 1991 Government census, India has the largest number of widows in the world, numbering 33 million.
In India, widows are often viewed as the cursed and inauspicious. They are stigmatized, abused, and driven out of their homes. Many of the widows seek refuge in the holy city of Vrindavan, Mathura after being turned out by their own kith and kin, even before the last embers of their husbands’ funeral pyres have died. An estimated 15,000 Hindu widows have made Vrindavan their home (Source: National Commission for Women).
In many conservative Indian hindu families, widows are shunned because they’re seen as bringing bad luck. Conservative hindus believe that a wife whose husband dies before her is inauspicious, because of her past karmas. Superstitious relatives even blame her for her husband’s death. The widow is a liability with no social standing, an unwanted mouth to feed. Often she will be cast out of the family home upon the death of her husband, with eyes mournful, forced to wear a coarse white saree and shorn of her hair, signifying her widowhood.
Widows, shunned by society, are expected to beg for her food, eat only coarse grain and bland food. They cannot be part of any festivities in the family, nor dress up in fineries or use make up. There are 33 million widows in the country, many living lives as social and economic outsiders, denigrated and abandoned.
Maitri works for the Empowerment of widows and the elimination of the discrimination and violence that millions of them experience daily. Widows’ voices are rarely heard; they are not counted.
In spite of the fact that widowhood is one of the root causes of poverty, and the most neglected of all gender and human rights issues, existing Millennium Development Goals (MDG) strategies have failed to address the causes and consequences of the low status of widows. The violation of their fundamental rights will have a disastrous impact on future generations.
Often illiterate, the widows themselves are unable to access justice systems. Their lives are determined by discriminatory interpretations of customs and religions. They are consistently denied inheritance and land rights. Begging, or near slavery in domestic, agricultural and sex work are an inherent part of their condition.
Widows, instead of being seen as passive victims of gender-based violence, should be recognized for their vital roles as the primary caregivers, key contributors to their family’s economic health, and agents of change in altering the face and fortunes of their families.
Maitri has been advocating and campaigning for widow’s rights for entitlements and dignity.
Initiated: July 2010
Location: Vrindavan, Radha Kund, Mathura – Uttar Pradesh
Since 2010, Maitri has engaged with more than 500 widow mothers living in Vrindavan (Mathura, Uttar Pradesh). Maitri has committed to providing nutrition, health Care, education on their rights, and access to Citizenship Rights. These rights include voter ID cards, below poverty line (BPL) cards, and unique identification (UID) cards as well as the benefits associated with them. Widow mothers enrolled with Maitri’s Nutrition program receive a free, daily, mid-day meal consisting of dal (lentils), seasonal vegetables, rice, and chappaties (Indian bread) with fruits to form a healthy diet. Further more they are provided with clean drinking water and made aware of the benefits of hygienic living and encouraged to live so. Supplements are provided to address the specific geriatric needs of the widows. Widow mothers are provided with basic health care twice a week and facilitated specialized medical checks periodically. As a more unique aspect of the project, widows found with a need for cataract surgery are provided that service through our partnerships with hospitals in Delhi and Agra. Till date, Maitri has provided 47 widows with cataract surgeries and 72 women have been provided with prescription eye glasses. Maitri has also facilitated cancer treatment for 3 widows from a hospital in Agra including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and medications.
Maitri works to ensure that the widows enrolled with government schemes such as widow pensions of Rs. 300 per month actually receive the benefit. Maitri also ensures dignity even in death for the widows by performing their last rites and funeral services as per their religious beliefs.
Maitri promotes respect and dignity for the mothers by giving them opportunities for income generation such as making incense sticks, paper, and cloth prayer beads.
Project Impact :
- 140,000 meals served
- 3576 woollens including shawls and blankets given
- 920 zero bank balance and pension accounts opened
- 150 Widows provided shelter in Maitri Ghar