In India, widows are not invited to celebrations. Many years have passed since the Sati Sahagamanam has been banned, a ritual where widows were burnt alive with their husbands. Nevertheless, they are still viewed today as being such bad luck that most avoid interacting or associating with them.
So when a widow gets on a stage in front of thousands to light up the ceremonial lamp, something powerful indeed has happened. Because lighting this lamp, in India, is full of symbolic meaning. It is believed to repel misfortune. So having purposefully, a widow to perform publicly such a powerful act is cause for concern if not scandal.
Moreover, if this gesture is done with the manifest approval of the best-known Hindu leader around, then something like a revolution is definitely happening. This is exactly SOPAR-Bala Vikasa’s intention: a real change in mindsets which will bring social justice to the 15 000 widows it has been working to empower for the past 10 years.
This year, the organization has invited religious leaders from all faiths to meet with widows and speak publicly on their behalf. All of them have responded positively, because there is no mention whatsoever, in any religious doctrine, discriminating against widows.
What the picture above doesn’t say
Believe it or not, it was taken in front of 4 000 women who were recently attending an annual conference on empowerment. These women are part of self-help groups set up by Bala Vikasa in many poor villages of India.
Sri. Gangu Upendra Sharma, appearing on the left, is the Hindu leader of the province of Telangana. He presides over 30 million souls. On Bala Vikasa’s invitation, he has publicly defended widows in the last few months, calling for an end to an injustice that has no part in Hindu religion. Many other Christian and Muslim leaders have done the same.
The word is spreading. More and more widows dare to stand up for their rights and go against the superstitious beliefs like in this picture. They gain new supporters in all spheres of society. In many villages where SOPAR-Bala Vikasa is active, authorities are becoming more open to widows’ participation in community life. Some of these women are breaking another taboo by putting back their bindi and jewellery. They are invited in public events like weddings and festivals. Some even join local committees.
SOPAR-Bala Vikasa has opened the way for these widows. The road ahead will still be arduous but they can now count on more and more supporters who are joining their voices to ask for social change saying in one united chorus : “Justice for widows is justice for all”.