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Last Updated: Saturday, 22 December 2007, 22:28 GMT
Aid plan for India's 33m widows
By Sanjay Dasgupta
BBC News

Women in India
Women can quickly lose their dignity if they lose their husband
India's Minister for Women and Child Development Renuka Chowdhury has outlined ambitious plans to help the country's young widows.

Ms Chowdhury wants them to overcome poverty, lead meaningful lives and, if they want, get remarried.

India's dominant Hinduism frowns on widows remarrying and they often see their social and economic power eroded.

Government figures show there are 33 million widows in India - many of them poor and some very young.

Previous initiatives aimed at improving their lives have achieved little and their continuing plight makes a government initiative sorely needed.

Social customs

In India's raucous democracy, where every group with a sense of collective identity vocally claims its democratic rights, the widows are a silent, invisible community.

A woman can quickly lose her dignity, even her basic rights, when she loses her husband.

Many widows are dumped by their relatives in religious towns like Vrindavan in northern India.

A study carried out by the municipal corporation in Vrindavan found more than 3,000 helpless widows living there.

Renuka Chowdhury
We will see how we can organise forums where eligible young men will come forward to meet these ladies
Renuka Chowdhury

Hundreds more live in nearby towns like Brajbhumi, Goverdhan and Mathura - all of them holy towns for Hindus.

Most of the widows are left to survive on charity, many are reduced to begging on the streets.

Many offers of help have been made but so far they have achieved little.

Ms Chowdhury said: "We always talk about helping widows, but in actual fact, very little gets done. Why else would so many widows find themselves utterly helpless and destitute in religious towns like Mathura and Vrindavan."

She said it was essential to rehabilitate the widows with training to allow them to work for a living.

"And then we will see how we can organise forums where eligible young men will come forward to meet these ladies.

"We've often had a good response whenever we tried to organise matches for young women who'd been brought up in orphanages."

Many observers say this may not be easy as Hinduism frowns on widows remarrying.

Some surveys show that steeped in their religious beliefs and fearful of violating social customs they were brought up to believe in, many widows themselves do not want to remarry.

However, for others who silently suffer the daily humiliations abandoned widows have to face, any government help would be a deliverance.

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