The Widow #CauseAChatter

A woman in sari sitting on the floor looking sad

I recently attended a funeral at the home of a seemingly educated family in a semi-rural area. Hurtful rituals involving women left a lasting impression on me...

Her husband died after a prolonged illness. She was by his side every minute of every day for three years. He was tired, she was exhausted. Sadness at a life cut short, on the verge of physical collapse. she grieved at the loss of a lifelong companion.

an old couple on a boat not smiling

Does it end here? Is it over for her? Mourning, crying, pacifying, its not over. Tend to the children, attend to the infinite rituals of most Indian funerals. No, it’s not over yet. She keens, wails because what will the neighbours think if she doesn’t? Her grief must not be private. She must prove again and again that she cared, that she loved her husband. Cry, weep, keen, every time she gets a visitor, she must, for what will the neighbours think?

She is quiet, tired from all the weeping. Every relative who comes through the doors hugs her, cries into her shoulder, rocks her back and forth. She tries to keep her balance as she lets out a wail. No tears come, they are all dried up over three long years, but she wails again. After all, if she doesn’t what will the relatives think?

It’s not enough that she served her husband his meal every minute of every day for three long years. It is not enough that she washed his face lovingly every day. It is not enough she helped him to the bathroom when he became weak. It is not enough that she changed his soiled sheets and cleaned him up intimately when he no longer could. It is not enough that she suppressed her desire to step out of the house for three years. It is not enough that she didn’t wear a new sari for three years. No, that’s not enough, thank you very much.

Funeral over. Time to relax and recover you say? No, we are not done. Now comes the Third Day rituals. The dreaded day. Her sons protested in vain. They were summarily ignored. Their mother admonished them, “Let them do what they must, my brothers. They will be angry otherwise.” She is taken from her home to her father/brother’s house. She is bathed, dressed in silken finery & jewelry, wears turmeric, Kumkum and glass bangles and of course the flowers of the married woman. She is sent to her home. After all, what are parents and brothers for if they can’t even do this much? What will the in-laws think?

At the designated time, she is taken by kindly women in a ritualistic march and rid of her finery. Off come the bangles, flowers, the turmeric, fine sari and jewels and the thali. Rub off that Kumkum that sits so proudly on her forehead. Wrap her up in a plain cotton sari, she is a widow. Let her cover her head, wrap her sari around her so no hair shows. Sit her down, let everyone look at her. She is the widow, didn’t you know? We must, we must, for what will the dayaathis (relatives of the same lineage) think? Her sons are in tears, helpless to stop it. Who cares? After all, what will the dayaathis think?

I protested on behalf of the widow; were these rituals necessary?

“No, no you know nothing. It must be done. How else will the dayaathis get cleansed?”

Relatives gave me weird looks. Whispers could be heard, “She is a strange one” “Does she live in India?”

I stood my ground, refused to make her a spectacle, my conscience wouldn’t allow me to.

Ah! So now she is free, thirteen days have gone by, relatives, neighbours and other well-wishers have gone home. Back to their offices, schools, movies, TV shows, dining out, weddings, parties. So now she may spend some time away from home, perhaps find some peace, come to terms with her aloneness? No. no we shall keep vigil, let her stay at home. Three months she must stay in that house, contemplating the walls and maybe talk to visitors who kindly consent to come home. After all, how can she leave the home? What will everyone think?

A woman looks out a window from inside a room

A million, no millions of women go through this every day of every year. Is there no respite? Does she need to prove her love and loyalty again and again? Is there no other graceful way to go about this?

I asked several women about these rituals. Many say that of course it is a must. The widow herself, she says that yes, she must do these things for otherwise her children may suffer in the future. The elders of the family have said so. A veiled threat if there is any.

I protest, no it is not so, we can do better, be better. But her brothers and father, they say that they have seen many WhatsApp messages that say there is hidden meaning to all these old traditions that we don’t even understand. We must do these things for the family and her peace of mind. All rituals must be done, even if we don’t know the meaning of them. There is a hidden meaning to every one of them, a wise guru has said so…

The funny part is the way the women themselves are conditioned to believe that they must follow the “rules.” They are so conditioned by whom?

By Men.

Men don’t need to do anything, say anything. The women are well-trained to carry out the rules, the laws, the rituals men created long ago.

In fact, a few stopped talking to me. I could only shrug and go back to my city life.

Have I done the right thing? Will they think before they do these things next time?

Women walk through a market, one woman is dressed as a widow

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9 thoughts on “The Widow #CauseAChatter”

  1. This is the bitter face of our society. On the name of traditions and rituals people forget that they are killing sentiments of others. Why only woman always need to prove her love? Why not men? Why woman always taught to think about others ?

    I wish our coming generations will not face this brutal face of society.

  2. I had seen all these on personal level speciallly in rural India areas where people follow a long list of rituals for widow women after death of her husband. It is the sad reality of our society where women bound to follow so many traditions since birth to death. I m glad you had chosen this subject for cause a chatter. Hope things will change for better in future.

  3. Wonderfully written heart wrenching post. We ourselves are privileged city dwellers most of whom im guessing are spared from regressive rituals . But it is a very sad reality of our society where oppression of women in all scales are rampant. Thank you for writing on this cause as even small gestures can make huge differences.

  4. I lived this! Still living it in an urban educated environment. My own sister has a grouse at me and told my elder sis that I am shameless. I wear bright clothes, I leave my hair open, I wear make-up and I am trying to seduce all the men around me with all this. Should I have committed Sati or go to Vrindavan? What regressive thinking! I am ashamed to call her my sister.

  5. good you did something about this. i hate all the rituals that people follow here in India. i dont follow any and even if i do its because i love the food or it looks interesting hahahha

  6. Awww this post made me so sad Brindha. What is the point of us celebrating Women’s Day and talking of gender parity when most of our country is still following these archaic traditions? Would a widower have to do any of this nonsense after his wife died? Never!

  7. I have seen this personally, a widow doesn’t have the right to wear bright colours, put makeup, she can’t keep her hair open. Sometimes these things hurt, how people judge a widow.
    It’s time people should start changing their thinking about these old rituals

  8. You just penned the bitter face of our society. These rituals take over the emotions and increase the emotional pain.. your post made me sad and realise our society is still need a lot of change.

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