I am angry, no may be confused, or perhaps sad. I don't know.
My maid Venkatamma about whom I wrote in an earlier post,lost her husband a few days ago. Yes, he tried his poison gimmick yet again, only this time the poison decided to take control of affairs. It was understandable that Venkatamma took it calmly in any case he was only her husband in name and ever since he left her for another woman she has been managing without him. So you assume that nothing changed in her life and it was business as usual? Wrong! She was made to go through rituals to tell her things were not the same any more. She was treated to the honours available to married women one last time to remind her she could not have them any more. Now she will not be allowed to use haldi, kumkum and bangles. Her son was furious and refused to look at her. So am I.But she tells me that she would be an object of ridicule in her village if she persisted in wearing these.
Who are these people to decide what she can have and can't - the same people who didnt raise their voice when the man left her for another woman and why is she afraid of their opinion? Why is she expected to be the "widow" of a man who failed to be her husband? And even if he had been an ideal husband, who decides how she mourns him?

I remember being angry as a young girl when I heard about my father's aunt who was married at 5 . The boy died a year later and the girl spent the rest of her life,60 years in mourning for a husband she hardly knew never knowing any of the pleasures of a teen ager or a young woman, never wearing a coloured sari all her life.

100 years later, the life for a woman in an indian village has not changed much. Perhaps it is easier for her to defy the customs as her son would support her but she wont as she wants acceptance from her society.
While scanning channels I hear stray dialogues from TV soaps asserting the need for preservation of tradition and culture and how women have a key role in that and I wonder if the above is also a part of a similar sentiment.

I don't know. I can't explain.But I am angry, may be confused or sad.
28 Responses
  1. All of it maybe and reasonably so. I guess the biggest paradox about our country is even as we have made amazing progress in technology, adopting western cultures and churning out some of the smartest global citizens, some our beliefs, customs and traditions continue to remain light years behind. I don't think it is going to change anytime soon!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Why should it happen always? Today my neighbor who is 65yrs old as usual came to spend her time with me,she is elder to my mom and i am elder to her 40yr old daughter but she still spends an hour with me daily,she was in tears today saying her daughter commented saying that "even after dad's death why do you wear colorful sarees" i was shocked.the said daughter is educated, she was a newsreader in a local TV channel,runs a school,has a daughter who is working in USA and a son who is about to get married,all of them are educated.I just could n say anything except for consoling her.Does this mean education has nothing to do with the levels of stupidity of people? Maybe it doesn't.I am glad venkatamma's son thinks otherwise and a few whom i know too.So many experiences and all pointout to such situations about women,sad,we talk about progressive thinking but not in reality.Will they ever change?

  3. Anonymous Says:

    anonymous is me:)

  4. Balaji Says:

    I really don't know what to say about the situation of your maid.

    But I have got one request. Please don't waste time watching soaps. really not worth it.

  5. Anonymous Says:

    Very sad...really what can we do pro actively say in this case to help? How can you convince this woman that the ridicule of the villagers be damned and that she should lead her life she wants to esp since she has the support of her children and you. One has to take a look at the regressive serials on TV to see what is expected of women by society in general. Amazing how a man who loses his wife does not have to change his appearance in any way at all. But women somehow have to tone down at least a little or people will pass sly remarks.

  6. passerby55 Says:

    USha, it does make us angry and confuse us.

    But, then no matter how much you try to teach them or make them realise. They still would choose to do what their community of men and women would say.

    In the end, what matters is to everyone is a decent income to fulfil thiei basic needs(food , clothing and shelter) and a few hopes and dreams for their children.... who in the end too curse them for being born in a poor family.

    USha, i see MOney indeed has become the magic word today.

  7. Usha Says:

    Orchid:The trouble is - while all this progress is amazing, it is confined to certain sections of the population. There is a vast majority which still remains untouched by any of this progress and within the same country we live divided in thin king and beliefs by centuries. Mass media can play a role in bringing about on the social changes - but people are so busy capitalising on these "sentiments" to worry about making any change.

    Aaalap:I was talking to a school teacher just yesterday and it seems to be that the "education" imparted by schools is just oriented towards scoring marks to pass the board exams. It has nothing to do with "educating" people.
    Actually I feel more angry when I hear such sentiments from people like your neighbour than when I hear the venkatammas say such things.
    They will change but not at the pace we would like.

    Balaji: I dont watch TV serials - not because I don't have the time to waste but because I get confused between them - they all seem the same to me. But sometimes I stop to listen to these ponderous pronouncements because that gives an insight into what the vast majority of soap watchers seem to believe in.

    Noon: I haveen asking myself the same. When I told her to forget her husband, be happy and dress up the way she liked, Venkatamma said something that chilled my spines:
    She said that if she defied custom, she would be branded a woman of bad intentions and that would have repercussions on her daughter's safety.

    Passerby:It is not all about money. It is more about the levels of awareness and education

  8. Mahadevan Says:

    Having lost my father at an young age, I could understand the trauma of a widow in a traditional society. To have lost one’s spouse itself is an injury and the conditions imposed by the society on the widows is a sort of stirring the wound with a sharp instrument. Some men do try to take advantage of young and innocent widows and citing that as the reason, society subjects widows to all sorts of indignities. One certainly finds some improvements in cities now.

    Coming down to Venkatamma’s case, as her husband had deserted her and went to live with another woman, his being alive or dead, should not make any difference to her.

    As you put it correctly, we are angry at the injustice meted out to Venkatamma, and yet sad at the helplessness.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Hi Usha,

    I lost my dad a year back. My youngest sis got married after that. During her wedding there were lots of hushing going on in the family about my mom attending, giving the dakshina and the one to accompany my sis to the church. I was told clearly to tell mom not to do so & so. I was mad at the thought. I and my sister decided to have our mom do all she was suppose to (just as she would if dad was around)and said we accept & are responsible for all bad luck that follows us because of this. Just pitiful is the line of thought even today when it comes to widows. I think my dad will suffer the most to see my mom go through crap above all in his name sake.

  10. Inder Says:

    thank god our 'society of great traditions and culture' has decided to give 'sati' a break. it is sad that we still have to be afraid of hypocrites.

  11. hari Says:


    I believe in spiritualism and never in Religion. I am appalled at the story of your aunt and disgusted with your maid.

    Lets for God's sake not give the name of culture and tradition to this nonsense propounded by Religious fanatics for their own personal gains.

    A woman leaving all worldly charms once her husband dies is definitely not part of our culture, even if it is, it is not worth preserving then.

    Men do not change their looks upon the death of their spouse. Does it mean they need not mourn or it does not change their life in any manner.

  12. Anonymous Says:

    what's wrong in that! I mean it is a custom and in one's opinion, it should be followed

  13. Usha Says:

    Mahadevan:Yes I have personally witnessed how these women are excluded from all the happy occasions in the house as not suitable for these occasions - even when it is their own sisters and brothers and sons and daughters.
    Having lived only in cities these past 30 years I assumed things had changed and all these customs had been given up. At least in my close family circles they have been given up.
    So this came as a revelation.

    By the way have you heard of Sister Subbalakshmi?A young widow herself, she started the sarada vidhyalaya for widows and as a student of Sarada Vidhyalaya myself she was one of the people I admire.
    Check out:

    Sunita:It is wonderful to hear how you and your sister handled it. I think if every family practises this such customs will disappear soon.

    Inder: Sati may have been abolished but the things they still do to women whose husbands are dead is almost as bad as death Apparently the fils DOR handles a similar issue. Please watch.

    Hari:I can understand your anger. But the socirty from which my maid comes does not understand such arguments. Some half baked priest interprets customs for them and these people blindly follow.
    In reality, my maid has nothing to lose by following these. When her daily life is a struggle, she doesnt care for haldi or kumkum or bangles. But tomorrow her daughter's marriage might become a problem in that society if she defies them ( that is what she claims). If she defies them it would have to be purely for the principle of it and what matters to her is the comfort of social approval.

    Anon:Thanks for dropping by and sharing your opinion. Everything is wrong with it and if possible it should be opposed.

  14. Anonymous Says:

    What a crock of ....! I understand, though, Venkatamma's predicament - naalu per ennna solvangalo? [why does anyone, in general, care for these proverbial four, who are useful only after one's death!].

    My maternal grand aunt who was widowed in her teens remarried - out of caste, too - in the 1930's, and created a sensation, but well accepted in our family on my mother's side. My paternal grand aunt, who was also a child widow too, shaven, clad only in her brown sari practically all her life, died a widow 60 years later. So, I have had close encounters with both the sublime and the ridiculous on this issue.

    With a baggage of a few thousand years to carry, it's not too surprising that many Venkatamma's are around in the 21st Century India. Is Hinduism the only major religion today to prohibit widow remarriage?

    I hope that those who criticize Deepa Mehta's Water read your post. Btw, if you haven't read/seen M.K. Indira/Prema Karanth's Phaniamma, please do.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    Ushaji its sad but true,in most of the colleges or schools lot of importance is given to completing syllabus or preparing for the exams.why,even i have such exp where when i tried to talk about anything out of syllabus the first questioning look was to say "is it a part of curriculum?
    But recently i had a debate in a PG class for abt 3hrs,no one realized how the time went past and the students were so clear in their thoughts,there is still hope:) In fact,there always is,isn't it.
    My grandma is a widow and on the day of my wedding my uncle {her own son} instructed her not to come any where near the mandapam,or he told me and my husband not to meet her first as it would bring ill luck.On the day of my wedding i first looked at her face and i made her travel with me in the car,made her sit in the mandapam and she was the first one from whom i took blessings and me and my hubby touched her feet first while leaving for the puja.I am happy and no ill luck and if i do have it in future then it would be a part of life,nothing to do with seeking blessings from my granny who is a widow.thats the answer to my uncle's attitude,At first i used to use words to prove my point,now i know words are not needed when action speaks louder.
    My mom who is a divrocee was not supposed to do kanyadaan acc to the rule book of hindu marriage,we,me and my hubby opted out of having a kanyadaan,and when my inlaws insisted on having one i agreed for it only if my mom does it.and she was standing with me on the mandapam following all the rituals,but nothing which she was not a part of was accepted by me or my husband or my brother also.
    Changes are possible,but only we are ready to change ourselves.


  16. Grief is such a personal thing. I dont understand - why the whole world has not only to be party to your grief by means of elaborate rituals - but also add their two bits to it. It angers me really. And we in India have made such an elaborate sham out if it - what with the whie saris and lack of kumkum.
    Somehow men dont have to go through all this - when the wife dies. Doesnt he need to show his grief?

  17. Anonymous Says:

    I can atleast understand your Maid's helplessness, but not the Alapana's neighour's daughter's attitude! God!! I can't believe educated people can actually say that! If it was a man, I'd have complained about men's attitude in general. But a woman chiding another woman is definitely not acceptable! I can't even blame the whole attitude on literacy in this case..

  18. Paavai Says:

    It is a change in the society that can help stop these traditions from perpetuating. I feel the same helplessness too. I agree with you that media should and can do a lot here. You could keep talking to her and continue to show that there are other groups of people who dont think the way her village people do.

    When TV channels talk about Ash and Abhi's being mangaliks, what can we expect from them.

    In Sharada Vidyalaya, when one of the teachers joined there for her training, apparently she saw a lot of girl children in the premises and asked sister subbalakshmi, if they were the children of the widows and destitutes who were going through training and Sister said they WERE the widows and destitutes. I am so glad that you have talked about sister subbalakshmi. She is a role model for me.

  19. Usha Says:

    The RF:Exactly! a huge crock of....
    Have been waiting to see Water and will read Phaniamma.

    Alap: I am so proud of you for the way you handled your mama and others at your wedding. That is the way we can hope to change these things.HUGS

    Somethingtosay:Questions which we need to ask every time we see these injustices. Even when people pretend not to hear them and try to make light of them.

    Deeps:What is disgusting is that this woman is her daughter. What a shame!

    Paavai:Oh yes, media will perpetuate anything that will sell.
    She used to come to our school sometimes to talk to the teachers and students and sometimes simply to take a walk around the vegetable garden. We used to love the gentle lady - Only later I understood what a lot of strength was hidden behind that gentle exterior.

  20. Anonymous Says:

    I don't think we can change the way society reacts to these things. But we can change the way the victim reacts to this. I am just thinking what can the right-thinking people who know Venkatamma can do? Is there any help line or help group she can go to for counseling? Can we share the postings on this site with her and give her the confidence that there are people in the society who still see her as the person she was before her husband's death? Can that be a good start?
    The other day I was watching Sun TV for some time. I was ashamed at the kind of serials. They almost seem to promote bigamy. I have decided to stop watching those programs. That's something I can do. I have the control over that.

  21. Hip Grandma Says:

    Hi usha,
    i AM glad to be back with a limp if not a bang.YES my i'net services have been partially restored.more on that later.coming to your servant,i can understand her son's resentment BUT these things are not going to change overnight.i have heard another stupid argument in favor of such practices.a friend said that symbolising widowhood would warn mischief mongers to stay off the person in mourning.i remember saying 'won't it be advertising the fact that the lady no longer enjoys the protection of her husband?your maid servant did not get it anyway.the poor thing probably does not dare to be sympathies.

  22. Mahadevan Says:

    Yes I have heard about sister Subbalakshmi. She not only came out of the cloister, but also demonstrated that what a socially ostrazied could do to benefit the society at large.

    Today, atlest in cities, widows can remarry, dress in a manner they want and choose a vocation. Yet, the stigma remains and they are denied access to the sanctum sanctarium of ceremonies. Remarried widows have their rights restored and yet, one can hear some whispers here and there.

    Remarriage should be a matter of personal choice. In any group, the customs and practices should act only as a facilitator.

    Protecting the widows from prying eyes, had relevance during certain period.

    Interestingly, during a recent debate on 'purdah', Kamala Das, the liberated poet, said that purdah acts as a deterrent against rape. Do we have a logical link between the practices?

  23. Artnavy Says:

    You are so justified feeling what you feel. I really feel bad that often these remiders of loss ( in this case it is a gain that the fellow is out of her way)are often self inflicted.

    After all women wear bangles and kum kum much before they are married- so why should it go away with teh husband's death

  24. Anonymous Says:

    Mahadevan said:

    Interestingly, during a recent debate on 'purdah', Kamala Das, the liberated poet, said that purdah acts as a deterrent against rape. Do we have a logical link between the practices?

    Really, what else do you expect from Kamala Das turned Suraiya, after her conversion to Islam. Just because Suraiya was once a liberated poet (sic), it does not mean that her remarks have logical or empirical validity - read The histrionics of Kamala Das.

    According to this blurb, among other myths about rape, one is that there is a correlation between dress or lack thereof, and rape. It's a long one, so I am quoting here the relevant excerpts:
    Myth: Women provoke rape by the way they dress or the way they flirt.
    Fact: Men rape women because they can get away with it. Women’s dress and behavior are not the cause...
    There is no correlation between who is raped and the clothes they are wearing or their flirtatious behavior at the time. Women of all ages are raped... Rape is an expression of power and control.

    Please, let us not spread this myth and deprive the defense lawyers and mullahs of their livelihood.

  25. Usha Says:

    Anon: I agree with your point that educating the prospective victims about these injustices is the best cure for this. These serials almost romaticise these practices. I know a young lady who started observing a fast for her husband after she saw the beautiful manner in which it was portrayed in films and serials! This is a girl with a masters degree.

    HipGran: These reason may have held good in another era but isnt it time we changed to be in with the times and got rid of nonsense like this?

    Mahadevan: I was also pretty shocked when kamala das made that comment. When so called "enlightened" people like this who give credibility to all these absurd statements.I think she was talking out of the fervour that is always a problem with the newly converted.
    One is living in a time when five year old children are being raped - what justification does she have for these rapists!
    As someone said in the same show, l blindfold the men and dont penalise the woman for crimes perpetrated on them.

    Artnavy: Even if they acquired certain rights only after marriage there is no need to give them up. How a person grieves should be left to them and not be dicatated.

    The RF:Thanks for the links. I am in agreement with your points here and in your post on the dresscode dictates in your blog.
    Knowing Mahadevan from his blogs and comments expressed earlier, I am sure he was only starting a discussion on the issue and not concurring with it.

  26. i hate it too when my maid says that a ,ajor part of her salary goes off to her inlawy and her husband does not hav a regular income too

  27. Mahadevan Says:

    Thanks for your clarifications. My mother became a widow when I was hardly ten years and since then I know about the indignities suffered by her as a widow and am indignant with the society. I have already given two lengthy comments on this post and hence am refraining from adding one more.

  28. Usha Says:

    ITW: It is ok if she is supporting others but when she is hit or abused, she should learn to stand up.

    Mahadevan: I understand your anger at having had to helplessly watch your mother being subjected to hurts. I have also watched similar indignities that women are subjected to when i was too youngand too ignorant to realise their implications. That is why I write about them now hoping that talking about some of these will help in creating awareness and their eventual disappearance.
    You are free to share your thoughts and opinions here - no problem about long comments. This is a space for sharing.