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Poor Young Widows

  Widows and women rejected by husbands live under the shadow of social ostracism (Pic: Sudharak Olwe)

A result of poor health and employment conditions in Bundelkhand is a large number of young widows. In many cases, the cause of the husband’s death is tuberculosis (TB), or ailments or accidents related to work in stone quarries.

Food insecurity aggravates TB, which is rampant across the region.

The TB patient is most likely to be a male wage labourer with a family, and in most cases, the patient is unaware of proper treatment methods. The patient usually relies on private doctors who recommend medicines indiscriminately and charge exorbitantly. Without proper treatment or food, TB patients are unlikely to live beyond the age of 50.

Saraswati Devi, convenor of the  Mahila Jagruti Mandal, an NGO that worked  in the congested semiurban areas of Sitapur, Chitrakoot, under the 2001-08 PACS Programme, reported that every third house had someone suffering from TB.

The disease is contagious, and several deaths can follow one after the other in families.

In Panihai village of Mau block of Chitrakoot, TB claimed three lives in one Kol family in the space of a few years. Chottelal and his brother Harilal worked in stone quarries, like their father. First the father died of TB; then Harilal died. On November 21, 2007, Chottelal, who was only 35 years old, died of TB, leaving behind a wife and three sons.

Two of the sons work in stone quarries, and may also not live long.

The exclusively manual excavation process in stone quarries is crude and associated with serious occupational health hazards.

Grameen Development Services (GDS), an NGO, reported in 2007 that silicosis was rampant among Sahariya tribals working in stone quarries in Birdha and Jakhaura blocks of Lalitpur. The average lifespan of an adult male worker was found to be less than 40 years [PACS].

'In some villages we found that at least 50% of Sahariya women had been widowed,' said Jaya Bisht, a worker of the NGO.

When GDS community organisers sought to form self help groups among the widows, the women were hesitant in coming forward and enrolling in the groups because of the cultural taboos associated with widowhood. Manoj Kumar, a community organiser, revealed that in one village of Birdha block, Rampura, at least 40 widows flatly refused to admit they were single women.

It was noted in female group discussions that except for a few very old widows, many of the women chose to live with another male, often their brother-in-law ('jeth').

There were also instances of women moving away with the new men in their lives, leaving their children to be looked after by aged parents.


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