By Virginia Tieghi • BSc Anthropology
Seethampet, Telangana, India
It’s a cloudy and humid afternoon in Telangana, you can feel, in the air, that the monsoon season is behind the corner. I’m sitting in the back seat, my friend Rajesh is driving in the hectic traffic while my eyes get entertained by what’s passing by. It’s an explosion of senses: smells, noises, colors. Everywhere. Suddenly, without even noticing it, the streets become narrower and the loud noises start to fade. We are in the village of Seethampet, and, at one point, I see a woman in a beautiful orange and flowery sari. It’s Uma, waving at us from the street.
I walk into her house, her smile makes me feel welcome. She grabs a plastic chair and makes me sit next to the door, where there is the most light. She is standing up, her daughter next to her.
My eyes get lost, I do not know where to look, what to smell, what to listen to.
Then she starts telling her life story, in Telegu. While I listen to the translation in English by my friend Rajesh, I look at the expressions on her face.
Sadness, anger, embarrassment. Tears on her face.
Her husband died when her son was one and her daughter was three. She was left to fend for herself, without a job, excluded from her family and her village. All of a sudden, her life becomes miserable. She is not allowed to take part in the community life, and she is discouraged from wearing colourful clothes and applying the Bindu on her forehead. Not even for special occasions like her daughter’s Ritu Kala Samskara, the coming of age ceremony for girls. Worse than that, daily needs like proving food for her kids become an issue so the state comes in to provide for food rations, which is six kilograms of rice per person in a month.
By constantly being discriminated and shunned by society, widows lose their dignity and respect, especially in rural communities where derogatory beliefs, superstitions and taboos around widows persist.
Local NGOs like Bala Vikasa and School for Children have developed empowerment programs that aim at alleviating the suffering of widows by changing the way widows view themselves and the way they are viewed by others.
For example, the Saree Rolling Project designed by SFC helps widows start a microbusiness within the community through the use of a machine designed for washing, drying and ironing the saree.
Empowerment projects like this one let widows improve themselves, the life of their families and their communities and finally gain confidence and hope.
In India, the death of a husband has meant exile, vulnerability, and abuse. But widows are starting to react. They have began to look beyond and move on, and that’s how it should be.
The encounter with Uma has opened my eyes and taught me a lot. Every encounter teaches you something, especially when you have no expectations and are able to appreciate the present moment, because that’s the most precious one. After this realisation, I’m ready to live my remaining days in India slowly and fully, with my heart and my eyes open to receive the unexpected.