Plight of Widows in India

India is home to a traditional and patriarchal society, where the identity of women is determined by her husband even in the 21st century. Widowhood in such a society takes its worst shape. It is not only associated with losing a bread-winner, but has wide ranging social implications.

Discrimination of widows in Society

Many of them have to give up wearing colored clothes, removes the ornaments symbolic of her marital status, restricting being vegetarian as it arouses sexual desires and forced to wear white. The social participation in family life is not welcomed and their presence is symbolic of inauspiciousness for many. In some deep pockets widows are harassed and killed by their in-laws or by family members calling them superstitious and responsible for the death of her husband. The term widow in India itself brings low status and discrimination.

The economic problems that the widow faces compel many to live in starvation. The problem gets aggravated with the responsibility of her children not young enough to take care of themselves. The problem is severe in the deep rural pockets of the country throwing them in permanent despondency.

Schemes for the welfare of widows in India

Government of India under the ministry of women and child development introduced many schemes which include monetary assistance to livelihood benefits.  The pension schemes for the widows under the Indira Gandhi Widow Pension Scheme restricted to selected widows. The Swadhar scheme addresses the vulnerable of each group of widows through a home-based holistic and integrated approach in difficult circumstances.

Discriminatory social schemes

In India there are around 31 million widow populations. Instead the welfare policies for these marginalized section is case selective in nature leaving many to face extreme poverty. Widows only above 40 years of age are entitled for pension in most of the India states. In Rajasthan and Gujarat widows are not entitled to pension if they have sons of 25 and 21 years respectively, who are considered to be old enough to take care of their mothers.  This means a large number of young widows do not get government support. Getting a proof of economic status and residence for a poor illiterate widow is challenging which often deprived her from claiming her basic rights.

It is the deprivation that needs to be cured by bringing more friendly schemes that caters the need of widow and provides them the basic livelihood. Collaboration between the government and civil society would create an environment for widows to claim services as well as access to their land rights. NGO’s like the Ekal Nari Shakti Sangathan which are providing platform for ‘single’ women to carry their future endeavor needs to be promoted and such other voluntary organizations needs to be encouraged.

With the changing society the patriarchal mind-set is slowly losing its relevance. Efforts made by government to bring women equally at par with men are showing its evidence. More women now participate in various spheres and this change would bring a better status for these marginalized women in the future.

Question for UPSC Mains:
What are the Socio-Economic challenges faced by Widows in India? In your view, to what extent the discriminatory welfare schemes across the states further aggravate their condition? Discuss.

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