WIDOW welfare is not seen as a priority in India, even though the country is home to over 55 million widows, one of the highest in the world.
Losing a marital partner is a distressing experience for both men and women. But in India, because of religious practices, traditions and patriarchal customs, women often face various problems once they lose their life partner. These include social exclusion, discrimination in inheritance rights, violence, and even abandonment by families in old age.
Even if there are laws to protect widows and government-sanctioned pension schemes for widow welfare, most women are simply unaware of their rights. Our societal structures are too weak to offer them safety and the law-implementing agencies are incapable of protecting them from many troubles.
The onus is often on non-profit organisations to help young widows rehabilitate or support the old to live their lives in peace.
On International Widows’ Day, we look at top India-based non-profit organisations that are working in the field of widow welfare by advancing the rights of widows and providing care and access to sustainable livelihoods.
This is a Delhi-based NGO working in widow welfare, rights of widows, violence against women, migrant workers, education, social inequities, legal advocacy, and others. It has benefited tens of thousands of individuals ever since the organisation was founded in 2005.
Its founders Lt. Gen. Bhopinder Singh (Retd) and Winnie Singh were mainly working with the members of the uniformed services but expanded their activities as it was felt that Maitri’s intervention was needed in several other areas.
One of their key focus areas is widow welfare. Looking at the state of old widows who are often left homeless and survive on begging, Maitri improved the social and economic status of the widows. The NGO has constructed old-age homes for elderly widows in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, to live in peace. Under its project Jeewan, it also provides healthy and nutritious meals at its old-age homes and outside. It has tied up with Akshaya Patra for this.
It is the only NGO in India that works exclusively with the Indian Armed Forces and paramilitary forces across the country and Nepal to support widow welfare of the martyred soldiers, including dependents of war-disabled and battle/peace casualties.
The Foundation’s activities include talent mapping, entrepreneurship coaching, and connecting the martyr widows (VeerNaris) with livelihood opportunities. It also supports them in taking care of elderly dependents and differently-abled children, and provides legal counselling about the rights of widows, help in pension-related issues and advice on investment.
ActionAid Association works for social and ecological justice. It has been engaged with the most marginalised communities in India since 1972. The organisation operates in 24 states of the country with the poor, the powerless and excluded women, girls, boys and men. Struggle against poverty and injustice is at the core of its philosophy.
ActionAid works towards facilitating rights and dignity for widows. And also, it continues to highlight the fact that almost all institutional and government initiatives are restricted to ‘Widows’, leaving a large section of other “single” women facing similar vulnerabilities to fend for themselves.
The NGO believes in protecting and promoting the rights of widows and single women through interventions to address the stigma, discrimination and violence faced by them.
Founded in 1969, Manav Vikas Seva Sangh is the official social development organisation of Catholic Diocese of Sagar, Madhya Pradesh. MVSS offers its services to the poor regardless of their caste, ethnicity, creed or religion. It has implemented scores of development projects in assistance with various organisations, including the Government of India, Childline India Foundation and others on widow welfare, rehabilitation of the destitute, etc.
Some of its objectives are sustainable livelihood, sustainable agriculture, promotion of education, child rights, natural resource management and women empowerment. As part of its women empowerment projects, widow rehabilitation is one of the focus areas. It helps widows stand on their own feet by training them in income generation activities and providing them with financial aid.
A Dharwad-based organisation in rehabilitative care for single women, single mothers and women in distress, it helps in creating social and economic opportunities through counselling, education, skill development and employment.
The idea of Rehabilitative Assistance for People in Distress (RAPID) was conceived by Vijay Kulkarni while he was working in microfinance and livelihood creation. When he came across single women who were either widows or had been deserted by their husbands, he launched RAPID in 2001 to serve this section of the society.
The organisation has assisted over 4,000 women through rehabilitative care. Under its various projects, it trains women to become financially and socially independent.
(Updated on April 25, 2022)
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Kumara has been a professional journalist for over 15 years with stints in The Telegraph and Reader’s Digest. He grew up hating maths and physics. He is a post-graduate in history. Kumara believes that cricket and Seinfeld have answers to most questions that life throws at you.