According to the UN, there are 245 million widows in the world of which 115 million live in abject poverty and face severe social stigmatization.

Voices Tuesday, April 07, 2015 - 05:30
Chitra Subramaniam | The News Minute | June 23, 2014 | 8:37 AM  IST  The United Nations (UN) does some good work. It helps refugees, transports food and medical supplies to distant and war-torn areas and offers its good offices to negotiate peace between warring countries.  And then it does some pretty stupid things. Amongst the latter is a day it calls the International Widows Day (IWD) which is observed on June 23 every year. So what happens on this day? This is what the UN says “…it is a day of action to address the poverty and injustice faced by millions of widows and their dependents in many countries.” We should be glad the day was not called widow eradication day. Where there is money to be made, there is data to be manufactured and a cause to be upheld. According to the UN, there are 245 million widows in the world of which 115 million live in abject poverty and face severe social stigmatization. Like the Widows of Brindavan in India about whom we write once a year, donate some clothes and food and then forget about them for the rest of the year. Sometimes we also give them sewing machines so they can become independent. This year we reported that they played holi, the India festival that augurs the coming of spring and the abundance of colour in nature.  This piece is not the result of historical research (1856 Widow Remarriage Act, for example) to establish why certain practices remain in our midst, in our homes and surprisingly in many situations which the educated and the urbane populate. This is about our daily silence, our surreptitious glances at widows in our midst and the generous and unsolicited advice we heap on people who have lost a spouse or a friend. What will a day dedicated to stupidity achieve that is not done every day? Take for example a ritual called SumangaliPrarthanai (prayer to women ancestors who died before their husbands) which is performed before any auspicious ceremony in Hindu homes. The prayer purports to invoke the gods and invite the blessings of well-lived women, whatever their condition or story may have been while they were alive as long as they died before their husbands. How many times have we heard women say they would like to die before their husbands and not asked why? In this day and age, what is this practice of leaving widows in Brindavanwith a clear message that have no home and family? What is this ridiculous practice of offering clothes in dull colours to widows? How is it possible to treat women like goddesses one instance and dump them in the gutter next?  What happens to widowers? The IWD was established by the Loomba Foundation by a widow in the family and the first IWD was marked held in 2005 in the presence Cherie Blair and Lord Loomba. Campaigns and events have been held in Rwanda and Sri Lanka, USA, South Africa and Bangladesh, among other. Presumably success is measured by the increased number of widows as a decrease would make the very existence of such UN days irrelevant. We saw what happens to land and property assigned to war widows in India. Some things are very wrong. This UN day is one such.