It was surprising to see Hema Malini’s approach towards the presence of widows from Bihar and West Bengal in Vrindavan. It is too appalling to see a female politician having negative view of people in distress. Widows can come to Vrindavan just like Hema came from Chennai to Mumbai. In fact, a BJP MP asking such horrifying question shows the ignorance about Vrindavan by her party. She does not know anything about Vaishnav rituals. Vrindavan was destroyed by Muslim invaders long back. It was Lord Chaitanya, considered by the Vaishnavites as the reincarnation of Lord Krishna, who directed the Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Bengal under a Pathan ruler Hussain Shah to relinquish and engage themselves for restoration and renovation of Krishna’s Vrindavan and this is how the city resurfaced.
As per Vaishnava ritual, all old, ailing widows are duty bound to spend their remaining period of life in Vrindavan. Hema is Dravidian and as a non-aryan, she is not supposed to understand the tenets of Vaishnavism. It’s better for her not to make irresponsible and idiotic comments. Moreover, all Bengali speaking people are not Bangladeshis as 9- crore of them live in West Bengal alone. Should the Marwaris, Gujaratis, Tamils, Andhraites be driven out from Bengal? No, Bengal has a different composite culture. It is mini India. Hema also knows all Indian cultures – right from Tamil to Maharashtra, and Punjab to Uttar Pradesh. She should not forget that.
Vrindavan is about 10 km away from Mathura, the city of Lord Krishna’s birthplace, near the Agra-Delhi highway. The town hosts hundreds of temples dedicated to the worship of Radha and Krishna and is considered sacred by a number of religious traditions such as Gaudiya Vaishnavism, Vaishnavism, and Hinduism in general. In many Indian societies, if a husband passes away, the wife bears the blame for her husband’s death which is considered a manifestation of the wife’s past sins. Considered bad women, widows are often abandoned by their families, left destitute, and forced to beg for daily survival. There are many organisations striving to influence, re-educate and change the cultural stigmas that have created this problem. Thousands of widows have been making their way to one particular town in the north of India. Cast out by their families or simply alone in the world, some travel hundreds of miles to get there, and nobody knows why. Krishna, according to great epic, the Mahabharata, was born in the nearby forest and it was around here that the young flute-playing trickster flirted with the cow herders – the gopis – and enjoyed that love affair known to every Hindu with the beautiful, divine Radha.
But Vrindavan has also known for its darker, less-loving side that is as ‘place of widows’. Widows in India no longer throw themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands. However, life for them can still be hard. Considering inauspicious, many soon find they have lost their income and are ostracised in their home villages. Some are sent away by their husbands’ families who want to prevent them from inheriting money or property. Nobody can explain why this particular town attracts widows from all over India – particularly, from Bengal. There are 6,000 widows in Vrindavan alone and more in the surrounding areas. Around 2,000 widows live in half-a-dozen ashrams and shelter homes in Vrindavan.
Hinduism was used as a weapon for the lives of innocent widowed women. The women under societal pressure were made to self-immolate themselves. This served twin purposes; the family was no longer entitled to maintain the widow and her sacrifice ensured that the share of her deceased husband would revert to the surviving members. It is a privilege to state; the evil practice of Sati is no longer practiced in India. However, it is a shame to admit that the condition of Hindu widows has turned worse with time. Even today, most of the widows in the country are abandoned from their houses. They have no place to go. They are unable to maintain themselves and thus are forced to stay in old age or widow ashrams. Most of the ashrams in the country are situated in the holy cities of Vrindavan and Mathura. It is estimated that Vrindavan has more than 4,000 temples and ashrams with about 2,957 widows living in them. The widows seek shelter in the ashrams for various reasons most of them being abounded or sexually abused by their family members believe that holy places like these would help them to attain salvation and would bring them nearer to god. Many regard Vrindavan as the only place where they can live and die peacefully with the protection of almighty. Unfortunately, these ashrams do not have much to offer. Majority of the widows are seen begging on the streets or soliciting for earning their livelihood. Ashrams encourage practices of prostitution and sexual abuse to gauge funds and finance. Being woman and Krishna worshiper, Hema Malini should have thought of making their lives better than asking them to leave the only place where they can afford to breathe…