No window for widows…

Building it up

Thrust into the responsibility of raising her three-year-old son (Raju) and taking care of her aging father-in-law, Nipa’s life was in a shamble after her husband-Anil-died an untimely death in 2000. At just 24 with a long life ahead of her, Jogen Das (her father-in-law) did not want Nipa to live a lonely life and thus asked her to find someone suitable and remarry. But Nipa was sceptical of a second marriage as her main concern was her child and she knew it well that finding someone who would love Raju like his own son is next to impossible.

“I knew it well that finding a person who would accept both me and my son into his life was simply impossible but then…Dilip entered into my life and proposed to me. Dilip and I were old mates. For him and his family, accepting me with my son was not a big issue. But what I feared most was Raju’s reaction once he discovered Dilip’s truth and that he was not his biological father. Secondly I feared that there might come in a change in Dilip’s behaviour once we have another child? Dilip, at this point, took charge and said that he would wait till Raju was matured enough to understand the intricacies of relationships,” recollects Nipa as she spoke about her second marriage.

And thus, after seven years of waiting, when Raju was 10, he was explained in the best possible way as why his mother was marrying for a second time. By this time Dilip had already become a part of Raju’s life and for him accepting Dilip as his father was not very difficult as he did not have any strong memories of his dead father.

“I cannot recollect any strong memories of my dead father. I have always found him near whenever I have needed the support and love of a father,” said the 10-year-old pointing to Dilip. And today Nipa leads a normal life after her (re)marriage with Dilip in 2008. They have a daughter as well.

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The Real Picture

But the blessings of a second marriage aren’t available for every single young widow. According to a survey carried out for the purpose of the article, it has been found out that around 16.25 pc of girls (from the rural areas) in the age group of 20-25 are widows for whom remarriage is still an elusive dream. And the percentage for the same section in the cities was found to be 7.35 pc.

One can’t help but ask, is it a curse to be a widow? Why is it difficult for the society to accept widow remarriage? The reasons vary from social bindings and family problems to many prevalent religious norms.

In the same survey, when the respondents were asked to strike out the reasons for the minimal number of widow remarriages, 64.64 pc people cited ‘social binding’ as the prime reason, while 15.15 pc think that prevalent religious norms hinder widow remarriage, 12.12 pc blamed family customs and 9.09 pc did not have a reason to put forward. The survey further revealed that most youths and parents support widow remarriage, but when the onus falls on them, they back out.

“I firmly support widow remarriage but if you ask me whether I will marry a widow or not; I would answer in negative. I am bold to shout with the crowd but I am not bold enough to lead it,” said a 27 year old software professional from the city, seeking complete anonymity.

“Why shall I marry a widow? Chances of falling in love with a widow are rare and even if I do, I don’t know if I will be able to marry her,” said Brijesh, a medical student.

“Letting my son marry a widow means going against the society and I am not that powerful to live alone, boycotted by the society,” said a parent whose only son had to be literally hijacked and taken to some other place as he was in love with a widow who was his college mate.

But when parents were asked what if they had a widowed daughter, will they not want to see her married again, 66.67% parents vehemently said they would and the remaining 37.33 pc parents decided to skip the question.

“Who doesn’t want to see his daughter happy and smiling and if someone asks her hand for marriage I will readily agree. It is the choice of the groom and his family. Even if they are ready to face society’s backlash, then what can I say, “said Jatin Nath, a resident of Guwahati.

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A representative photograph (Source: Google)

Similar society, similar rules

This is not just about one or two cases in Assam, but is something which is observed in most parts of the Northeast region- a region which widely claims to enjoy the highest rates of gender equality in the country. As the structure of society is more or less the same in the entire region, people belonging to different caste and tribes follow almost the same social rules.

“In Meghalaya, second marriage is not a problem religiously in our society. Widows do get married for a second time but in most cases, especially in the villages, the groom is twice the age of the bride and has children elder than herself. A young widow is often seen as a lustful object by the village men. In some cases, to satiate her own lust, she gets into multiple relationships and this brings in a bad name not only to the family but also to the society. To shun this social obscenity, they are married to grooms twice their age. But their condition after the marriage is not better than any slave. But in the cities, especially in Shillong where people are more educated than the villagers, girls do not fall into such traps easily and even after the husband’s death they try for a better life themselves. If on the way they meet someone suitable, they get married,” said Elizabeth (name changed) who herself remarried a few years back after the death of her first husband in a car accident.

“In Manipur, according to a recent survey carried out by National Family Health Survey, 43.9 pc women experience violence after marriage. So there are very few widows who actually think of a second marriage as the scars from the first marriage seldom die out. And moreover widows are generally regarded as bad omen and widow remarriage a social taboo. Nobody dares to go against the society,” said a Manipuri journalist, seeking complete anonymity.

“Marrying a widow…? Sounds good in novels and movies, but in reality…? Friend, have you ever carried out a survey on the remarriage of a divorcee, female? If not, then please do. You will see that our society finds it accept a divorced lady as someone’s wife. Being a widow is still a curse, isn’t it?” questions a friend of mine who did not wished to be named.

Some optimism

To have a happy heart is a basic human right but our century-old social customs have pushed a major chunk of our women and their needs, their hopes, their aspirations to oblivion. If the highly orthodox society of Tamil Nadu is opening up and widows are frequently getting married, if there can be matrimonial portals especially for widows, then what is it that’s holding us back? Is not it sheer hypocrisy that the Indian society fervently worships the feminine form of God in one hand, the same society leaves no stone unturned in branding her a witch, a whore, a slave to do your chores. It’s time the thought-processes changed; it’s high time it did!

(Above is a 2013 article published in Eclectic Northeast)

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