DELHI India --
"If a man can remarry, why can’t a woman?"
India’s Vice President Venkaiah Naidu, posed this sharp
question during his speech at prestigious Vigyan Bhawan,
India’s top conference centre in New Delhi, on 23 June, the
UN International Widows Day, writes Swami Anand Kul
"There is a problem in the
mindset of people, we need to change this mindset," he added
during a conclave organized by the Loomba Foundation.
Voicing the agony of an estimated 258 million widows
worldwide, including 46 million in India, the various
speakers highlighted their plight and poverty.
Widows are unheard and invisible worldwide.
And perhaps the most oppressed and the poorest section of
the society globally.
Once a woman becomes a widow for no fault of hers, she is
insulted, beaten and even raped by her family member(s),
cheated of her property, slighted as a witch, degraded with
These rituals in poor countries are based on beliefs
about the afterlife and suspicion about widows surviving
They can involve the widow having to drink the water used
to wash the dead husband’s body, and sexual intercourse with
In developing countries, widows face starvation and
Widows are deprived of their husband’s property and
forcibly evicted from their homes because they supposedly
brought bad luck.
Serious problems are faced by widows who only have
daughters and no sons, and by child widows between the ages
of ten and 17 in developing countries
Even in developed countries, like USA and Europe,
unskilled or semi-educated widows face acute poverty, severe
insecurity due to lack of affordable health care and lack of
well paid jobs for low skilled workers.
The challenges for the survival of widows were
highlighted and solutions proposed by different speakers at
this event attended by a hundred widows, sponsors for their
welfare, top political leaders, diplomats and celebrities.
"The steps taken for the empowerment of widows will not
be successful unless it is taken as a mass movement.
"Without a change in attitude, we cannot change much,"
said India’s Minister for Law and Justice, Ravi Shankar
Prasad, promising all legal assistance.
He urged the government to provide livelihood skills,
education for their children to end "life-shattering
emptiness and void" faced by millions of such women.
"We have a Mothers’ Day, a Fathers’ Day, so why not a
Widows’ Day on 23 June when Lord Loomba’s mother becomes a
widow?" he asked.
The founder chairman of this foundation, Lord Raj Loomba,
urged the Indian government to set up a National Commission
for Widows since India has 46 million widows, the highest
number in any country.
Started in 1997, the foundation has been relentlessly
working for widows’ welfare for over two decades.
It all started in 1954, when the father of ten-year old
Raj Loomba died and his mother, Pushpa Wati, became a widow.
On the very day of his father’s death, his grandmother
ordered his mother to remove her jewellery and bindi, the
mark on her forehead to show she was married and wear white
clothes from then onwards.
From a happy wife, his mother was instantly transformed
into a desolate widow.
Raj never forgot this trauma.
His father had provided for his family and so his mother
was able to educate her children.
He realized that this would be impossible for a poor
To focus on the plight of poor widows, Raj and his wife
Veena, set up the Pushpa Wati Loomba Trust in 1997 when his
mother had passed away.
The charity became active in India, Asia and Africa.
In India, over 200,000 widows’ lives have been
transformed by the Loomba Foundation in last 20 years; and
over 10,000 children of poor widows educated.
The Indian Prime Minister Narendera Modi launched widows’
empowerment program for 5,000 widows in Varanasi in 2016.
After launching the International Widows Day in 2005 at
the House of Lords, London, with Cherie Blair as President,
Lord Loomba worked tirelessly to obtain the support of the
United Nations to declare 23 June as International Widows
Day in 2010.