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WIDOWS, SOCIAL OUTCASTS OF VARANASI
Death, in Varanasi its hard not to come across. The burning of the dead sends plumes of ominous black smoke curling into the blue and white of the sky becoming some what of a stereotypical Van Gogh painting. Which literally speaking is what death does in Varanasi, becomes an art for tourists to view and as quickly as this stream of smoke disappears they move onto the next exhibition via a tour boat. What is not on the scheduled tour stop of death however is the widows of Varanasi.
Over 38,000 Widows discarded from their families and recognised as a social outcasts, become apart of the ongoing chaos of the infamously holy city of Varanasi. The toll of death for widows extends beyond grieving your deceased husband within the Hindu culture; it also includes the likes of discrimination, ostracism but also finding a means of surviving when you have no one to turn to and no money to live off. Which in many widows cases can include begging and prostitution.
There is however a certain means of refuge that has been put in place for these women; within Ashrams and charity houses, there is an offering of communal rooms and hot meals. This includes the Nepali Ashram, nestled in amongst the labyrinth of other crumbling Varanasi buildings, it houses not only young brahmins learning scriptures but also 22 widows.
The widows are provided with a bed, hot food, company of other widowed women and a charity funded income of £24 per month. But ultimately the main reason behind the women being there is a place to die, to die within the holy city of Varanasi. The women have a daily routine of waking, washing, eating and sleeping as well as certain other recreations including watching the television and playing music together. These women feel as if they have fulfilled all they have needed to in life, they will continue to do this until they die. There is however movements within various charities that is encouraging widows to carry on with their lives, offering a range of courses and employability.
Widowhood is something that happens to many people across the world, each religion, state and person has a different way to deal with it. Widowhood is an issue that is so expansive with an average of 245 million women around the world recognised as widows with at least 115 million of those living in poverty. Widowhood and the charities available worldwide for the issue, has a likeness to some of the Varanasi’s widows. Often becomes lost and forgotten in the process of death, therefore losing the importance it should have.
BY LAUREN ROONEY