受虐遭棄… 印度寡婦庇護所 她們找到新家
Like thousands of other widows exiled from their homes to a city in northern India, Nirmala Maheshwari said she was abused by her family after her husband died.
“They saw me as a burden,” Maheshwari whispered recently, recalling her first day at a new shelter for widows in Vrindavan, as other women crowded around her bed, comforting her by squeezing her shoulders and hands.
Maheshwari said she had lost her social value in the eyes of her family, and her son and other relatives starved and beat her.
Given her lowly status at home, Maheshwari said she was shocked when she stepped into the lobby of her new home: the Krishna Kutir ashram, a government-run facility with about 1,000 beds, a freshly dug swimming pool, and free food and medicine.
Hindu brides are often expected to live with their husbands’ families. This weakens ties with their own, and widowhood can spell disaster. Without a husband, a small portion of India’s 40 million or so widows are violently purged from their homes each year.
But many of India’s castaway widows — most of them illiterate, some married off as infants — have seen significant improvements in their quality of life over the past few years. Prodded by a flurry of public petitions and court rulings, the government and rights groups have invested tens of millions of dollars into lifting the conditions of abandoned women.
The money has gone not only into building group homes for widows, but also to funding pensions and providing work training and medical treatment.
While some of these changes are taking place across India, they are most visible in Vrindavan.
The town is a maze of narrow streets and regal, sandstone temples. All day long, thousands of pilgrims gather to pray at the base of giant statues of deities.
It is believed that widows have gathered in the city since Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a 16th-century Bengali social reformer, brought a group of them there to escape from suttee, a now-banned practice in which Hindu widows immolated themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres.
For many years, the widows in Vrindavan, which is considered the childhood home of the Hindu god Krishna, have survived by singing devotional songs in temples for a few rupees a day, and by begging for money in white saris, a signifier that color had drained from their lives.
Homelessness was common among Vrindavan’s widows. Some lived in doorways. When they died, garbage collectors would sometimes stuff their bodies into jute bags and throw them into the Yamuna River, according to local media reports.