Kashi widows get Sulabh pension; maintenance bill proposed

Varanasi, April 28 (IANS) As the sun rose across the sandy banks of the Ganga at the Rajendra Prasad ghat at Varanasi Sunday, life turned a new leaf for the 100-odd widows of Kashi — NGO Sulabh international launched a pension and medical welfare scheme for them.

The founder of Sulabh, Bindeshwar Pathak, said he intended to draft a bill and hand it over to Parliament to better the plight of widows abandoned by their families.

“I strongly feel that the time has come for the government to enact a law for the welfare, protection and maintenance of widows so that their living conditions and general existence are ameliorated,” Pathak said, while pointing out that by his own experience of working for the widows he had concluded that “the enormous sufferings and hardships the widows in India continue to face can only be changed by drafting a law for their maintenance”.

Pathak said he intended to hand over a copy of the draft bill to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar.

As the widows sang and danced Sunday to religious songs and bhajans, hundreds gathered to cheer the aged and wrinkled women. Pathak inaugurated the pension scheme and announced that “more is to come in the future”.

From the aged Saraswati Jaiswal to Panna Devi, who has an acute eye ailment, every face exuded confidence and brimmed with joy as District Magistrate Pranjal Yadav flagged off two ambulances gifted by the NGO to cater to their medical needs and emergencies.

As all this happened, many of the old women who could not climb to the place where the function was held animatedly discussed how “Baba Vishwanath has finally smiled on us”.

“I am very happy, in times when our very own have deserted us, these people have come all the way to help us,” mused 35-year-old Veena, living at the Missionaries of Charity destitute home at Shivala. Veena had been hounded out of her house by her parents-in-law after her husband married another woman, leaving her as good as a widow.

Struggling to hold back her tears as the event unfolded was 88-year-old Bindeshwari Devi from Motihari, in Bihar, who, after being widowed at the age of 25, was left alone with her two sons. Both her sons are now dead.

Bindeshwari Devi came to Varanasi to “die here at the feet of Baba Vishwanath”.

With the monthly pension scheme launched by Sulabh here, as was done in Vrindavan a few months back, she says she is happy that her daily needs would now be fulfilled.

As she spends her time reading the Ramayan “again and again” and taking part in “kirtans”, she says her medical needs would be taken care of, too.

The district magistrate, a young man in his 30s, appeared overwhelmed by the sight of the smiling, old widows.

“I am very happy that Sulabh has taken such an initiative. In the coming days, the district administration will work closely with them to improve the quality of life of this marginalised section of society,” he told IANS.

Sulabh is already extending help to widows at Vrindavan, after encouragement from the Supreme Court, through the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA).

“The special programme has now been going on for more than nine months, and as of today, we are giving Rs.2,000 per month per widow for food and other needs,” an official of Sulabh told IANS.

Arrangements have also been made to impart education to the widows in three languages — Hindi, Bengali and English. Teachers have been appointed for the purpose.

“We are planning the same in Varanasi aso and would provide vocational training for making garlands, preparing incense sticks, sewing and embroidery too,” Pathak said.

Refrigerators and television sets with satellite connections have also been provided to the groups of widows.

As the widows of Kashi are scattered, some living in ashrams and some in private premises, with a good number of them begging on city roads and outside temples, a proper survey needs to be conducted to ascertain their precise numbers. That work is being undertaken by Sulabh at present at Durga Kund Ashram, Birla ashram, the Nepali mandir and Sarnath-based ashram.

(Mohit Dubey can be contacted at [email protected])

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