Too ill to sing

Twelve-year-old girls are treated like dirt, and so are eighty-five-year-old women.

India alone has almost 40 million widows. Traditionally Hinduism frowns on widows remarrying and many have their social and economic power eroded too…Vrindavan is a pilgrimage town now home to thousands of destitute widows. Ashtabala Mundo is one of thousands of widows who have been driven by poverty to the holy town. She was married off when she was still a baby and widowed when she was still a child. “We have to come and sing here morning, noon and night and for all that I only get is $10 a month,” she said. “By the time I’ve paid the rent, I can’t afford to buy cooking oil. So I often go all day without a hot meal,” Mrs Mundo said. The women line up, after singing for several hours, to receive a cup of rice and a few teaspoons of lentils. It isn’t much.

No – a cup of rice and a few teaspoons of lentils is not much for several hours of anything. Making rosaries, singing, anything.

Many of the widows who flock here have nowhere else to go. Hindu widows are not supposed to remarry. With little social or economic status, many become destitute. We met Nirmala Dasi, a frail 85-year-old, begging at the temple gate. When she spoke, she dissolved into tears. “I’ve been too ill to sing at the temple for the last three days so I haven’t had a thing to eat. You don’t get anything unless you go there.” We were soon surrounded by widows with sad stories to tell. “I spend almost everything I get on a room I share with four others. I’ve no relatives, or I wouldn’t be here,” said Mithila. “It’s so cold here, I’m always freezing.”

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