Yesterday I explained the former tradition of Sati, when widows were burnt together with the bodies of their dead husbands. We are glad that this tradition stopped but in the scriptures there are other guidelines for widows which are still practiced today and which I don’t find much better than killing the women.
If you read the scriptures, you will find Sati, the burning of widows, and one alternative for women. Instead of burning themselves, they are advised to wear only simple white clothes for the rest of their lives, to live a life of low standards, not to enjoy and actually only to wait for death. They should not dress themselves in any other colour than white, they should not put on make-up and should not wear jewelry. They should not try to make themselves look beautiful. In many places it is also usual for widows to shave their heads. These women are advised to go to a temple and pray and chant there so that they get a charitable dinner there. They are supposed to spend the rest of their lives like this. It doesn’t matter how young they are when their husbands die.
The religious explanation is that they had some bad Karma which brought bad luck to their husband, too, so that he died and now they have to live without them. Their families, believing that they are bad luck not only for their husband but for the rest of them, too, often don’t want to keep them in their homes. In regions where this belief is strong nobody would like to have them around in any important ceremonies or festive occasions. They are said to bring bad luck. This is why the families encourage them and often send them out to go to Vrindavan or Varanasi for example. In those holy towns they should be able to spend the rest of their lives devoted to God. There they should pray and chant. Their lives are not good for anything else.
This is how many widows came to Vrindavan, too. It is known that these widows in Vrindavan chant and do devotional work. Vrindavan is a town where Hindus go when they come close to death because they believe that who dies in Vrindavan, the town of Krishna, will be freed of the circle of birth and rebirth. This is how these women, who were told that they should only have one aim in life and that is to die, end up here. Some people founded charity organizations for them so that they had a place to stay, where they could work a bit for their living. There they chant and get a little something to eat.
Unfortunately this is normally just not enough for them to live. This is how this tradition leads to a lot of abuse and exploitation. The widows have to go out and search for work in order to survive. But what should they do? They are uneducated, come from poor areas and have often never done work in their lives. Some of them find cleaning work but many are simply too old to really work and start begging in front of the temples instead. Women in that situation do not have any social status and nowhere to go. They are not safe because they don’t have a social surrounding that cares about them. This is how some of them get abused and raped. In order to survive and not to die of hunger, some of them, especially younger widows, see their only chance to earn money in prostitution. A few of them may prefer this work to other work they can get but I believe mostly they do it simply out of desperation and the wish to survive. While Sati has stopped, this tradition is still alive and still today widows come to Vrindavan, hoping that they can survive here with praying and chanting. Having grown up in Vrindavan, I especially feel for these women because I have seen them from my childhood on.
Isn’t it horrible what religion has created? It is a religious tradition and people find the roots for it in the scriptures. Through this, society does the opposite of what it should do. People should be there to take care of the woman in her grief and to give her a reason to enjoy life again! They should encourage her to find another love, maybe another husband, to do something in her life and feel joy, although her husband is dead. Instead, they force her to believe her life has no meaning without her husband! They believe she is bad luck for them. We are talking about this woman’s children, siblings and other relatives who chase her out of her own home. They are relieved when she goes.
A widow thus has two possibilities if you read the scriptures: either she kills herself by jumping into the fire of her husband’s remains or she lives a life in misery. Can you understand why many women became Satis voluntarily? After their death they would be remembered as holy women instead of spending the rests of their lives in poverty and begging others to feed them, outcast by their own families. What would be your choice?
What strikes me about this is that, as usual, there is no such rule for men! When a man loses his wife, he may grieve for some time but nobody asks him to change his lifestyle or even leave the family! He is free to find a new wife and that as quickly as possible! How come that a woman is not worth living a good life without her husband but a man without his wife is only told to look for a new one? How come the woman would bring bad luck to her family and not the man? When a husband dies, it is the wife’s bad Karma. When she dies, it was her own bad Karma, too. Where is the justice?
This inequality exists only for one reason: men dominated in society and wrote the scriptures with those guidelines and rules. Men wrote that women should grieve forever once they are dead. For themselves they did not think of any such rule because if their wife died, they would not like to live the same miserable life. They would not have put anything in the scriptures that would cause them a disadvantage!
So there we see again how unfair religion is, how many rules there are which are outdated and just wrong and how we have to change our daily lives and our society. Many modern women don’t believe in that tradition anymore, in many areas it is not practiced and educated women know that they can live and work even after their husband’s death. It is good but it is not enough. We have to change and finally bring gender equality to this country, this culture and this society. Such traditions show that there is still a long way to go.