In many communities in India, widowhood marks the end of worldly life for women. While sati- the practice of a widow burning herself to death on her husband’s funeral pyre- has been abolished, widows are often expected to spend the rest of their life in mourning. They may be seen as bad luck, and may be expected to mark themselves such by practices like shaving their head or wearing white. They are often completely ostracized by wider society.
This year, Meera Sahabhagini Widows Ashram in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh observed celebrations for holi, the festival of color, its residents. Organized last week by the aid agency Sulabh International, the event was a marked departure from tradition. Widows of all ages- several of them who were married as child brides and others who lost their husbands early on- participated in the festivities.
Journalists from prominent media houses including were present to chronicle the event. The Associated Press photo journalist Bernat Armangué did a stunning photo series and NPR’s Julie McCarthy did an evocative audio story of the same. In stark contrast to how they are usually portrayed, the ladies seemed bashful, joyful and like they were having a lot of fun.
Last year too, Sulabh organized a similar event which saw the participation of over a thousand widows.