In 2005 there was an excellent movie by Deepa Mehta titled ‘water’. This movie that raised the hackles of orthodox Hindus depicted the plight of Hindu widows who were incarcerated in a home for Widows in India in a period set in the British Raj. The Hindu widows lived a restricted life and occasionally were used for sexual gratification of the rich Zamindars (Land lords) and Rajas.
Plight of Widows
This is in essence the plight of widows in Hinduism. These are the customs that have crept in from the Vedic age and there is no explanation how and why
The widows in Hinduism are the neglected lot of society. As events have unfolded perhaps the greatest sin in life is to be a Hindu widow. These unfortunate women were expected to commit sati, and in case they were allowed to live they had to remain unmarried all their lives. In addition they were expected to shave their heads and wear bland clothes and no make up. They were supposed to be inauspicious and not allowed to take part in religious functions and marriages.
Young Widows and Sexual Exploitation
There were cases of very young girls, still in their teens who became widows for whatever reason. These women were forced to live their lives without marrying. Sadder still is the fact that these unfortunate women were often prey to the sexual advances of the men folk of the family. If they complained, they were summarily packed off to widow ashrams like the one depicted by Deepa Mehta, with all its attendant problems of sexual exploitation.
Lot of the Widow
Widows were also to live their life by eating last in the family of whatever was left. It was an austere life and even looking at oneself in a mirror was taboo. All this has left a question mark on the essence of Hinduism. It is a wonder that the umpteen religious heads never addressed this problem. Thinkers like Vivekananda and others must be faulted for not addressing this problem. History will record these practices of Hindus as a black mark, which pulled down a deeply philosophical religion.
The position has changed somewhat in the cities with the advent of education, but in the villages these practices are still very much in vogue. The widow has hardly any space in Hindu society and this is where Islam and Christianity have scored over Hinduism.