In India, there are more than 44 million widows, according to official data. Many of them continue to suffer silently as they are at the receiving end of societal stigma that still entails widowhood in many parts of the country.
With a network of 93,829 women actively participating in sanghams, RDT has been working to improve the living conditions of women and especially widows for many decades. In 2019 – 2020, to ensure continued assistance to the widows who were earlier solely dependent on their spouses, RDT programmes provided nutritional support to 2,365 widows of Anantapur and Kurnool districts.
On International widows day, we bring you a story about the courage and resolution of a woman who tackled all challenges that widowhood endowed upon her and determined to speak out to sow a seed of change. This is the story of Lakshmi Devi.
Lakshmi Devi is only 31 and it has been 13 years since since she become a widow. Hers is not a happy story but a story of stigma, courage and above all determination to change not only her life but also the one that inspires others . Married at a very young age of 13, she could not even finish her basic education. Five years after her marriage, her husband died in an autorickshaw accident, leaving her with no source of income and two infants to care for. © Roberto Rodriguez/RDT
When Lakshmi came into the grasp of widowhood, she did not know she would get trapped by the chains of stigma. Lakshmi was forced to stay indoors for three months. She suffered and remained inside so she cannot be seen by others as even a look at a widow is still considered inauspicious for many. © Nuria Navarro/RDT
Entangled in a web of taboos, Lakshmi was forbidden to cook. She depended on her sister to cook meals and feed her. “I became very weak. My sister felt pity at my plight so she came and looked after me” © Nuria Navarro/RDT
One day when Lakshmi was carrying firewood back to her house, she felt devastated when her own relative turned around when they crossed paths. “I was heartbroken to see my uncle turn away. He is my own family and even he could not empathise with me” © Nuria Navarro/RDT
“Even after 13 years of my widowhood, I still receive taunts when I step out to buy groceries. I feel tired of society’s mentality. I do not understand how it is my fault if my husband died? Why punish me? Why cannot I be treated like a human?” ©Nuria Navarro/RDT
“These past years have been very tough on me. There were times when I lost the will to live, but I carried on because of my children. I never shared with anyone what I was going through. All these superstitions have existed since generations and they are still in practice. How is a woman responsible for her husband’s death? Why is she considered a culprit?” © Nuria Navarro/RDT
After years of suffering in silence, Lakshmi decided to take part in RDT’s awareness programmes for widows and women in vulnerable situations. “The sessions organised by the RDT helped me in my journey. I also met other women like me. It felt nice to share my feelings with them. I have gained confidence through RDT and today I am a local leader of women sangham. I now plan to aware other women of the sangham about the issues faced by the widows” © Nuria Navarro/RDT
“I could not ever imagine what my mother has been through all these years. She has come a long way and I feel proud of her. Because of my mother, I have learnt to respect women who are widows. I will always treat them with respect and dignity” © Nuria Navarro/RDT
“Talking about the stigma is the first step to end it” Lakshmi Devi has risen from the swamp of taboos, broken the shackles of stigmas and now on a journey to spread light. © Nuria Navarro/RDT
Text: Dyuti Khulbe/RDT
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