India has always been a land of vast natural beauty, ancient tradition and beguiling intrigue. Modern India is a nation where a highly-skilled and highly-technical minority coexists with a larger provincial population that is steeped in tradition, superstition and religious dogma. This backdrop provides the basis for recognizing the plight of India’s most marginalized citizens – the more than 40 million widows that face a future that offers virtually no hope. They have been ostracized by society, detached from their families, economically deprived and reduced to non-entities by tradition.

Ancient custom dictates that widows are unlucky or “inauspicious” and as such, there are a number of taboos that serve to demoralize these unfortunate victims of circumstance. A widow is not allowed to appear at auspicious occasions, such as weddings or births. She is stripped of her jewelry and forbidden to wear colored clothes or flowers. She is denied every form of dignity that she knew as a wife and mother. In every aspect of her life, her “negative” status is reinforced.

 

In the city of Vrindavan, widows face a life that is so abysmal and cruel that it is difficult to imagine in the modern world. Vrindavan has thousands of temples dedicated to Lord Krishna. For generations, widows have made a pilgrimage to Vrindavan. They are either admonished by the families of their former husbands or are literally dropped off by relatives that no longer want them. Once there, most of these women are forced to beg for scraps of food and to scratch out a subsistence on the street. Many are robbed of their pensions, sexually exploited and physically brutalized.