Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

Friday, February 22, 2008

Widowhood means denial of basic human rights’

Many years ago, as Dr Mohini Giri was walking down a street in Vrindavan, India – known as the "City of Widows" – she noticed the body of a woman who had passed away on the road. Animals were feasting on the corpse, and no one had tried to move her or cremate her.

Giri asked a few young men to help her lift the body. They promptly refused, saying that to touch a dead widow would bring years of bad luck and impurity. Dr Giri was shocked at their callousness and ultimately got help from other widows, who cremated the woman together.

The story inspired Giri, a widow herself, to found the Guild of Service, an organisation committed to the empowerment and rehabilitation of Indian widows.

The Guild of Service runs a shelter for 120 widows in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh, where there are at least 6,000 widows who have fled to the holy city from lives of trauma in West Bengal and other areas.

Many survive by singing hymns in the temples for a cup of rice or by begging on the streets, and some are forced into prostitution.

"Earlier, widows were forced to commit sati [suicide] by burning themselves on their dead husband's funeral pyre, but that evil practice was abolished," Surabhi Chaturvedi, a counselor at the of Guild of Service.

But still widows continue to live a life of quiet destitution.

"In Kashmir, a conflict-ridden state, there are many women who are widowed," she said. "We have a shelter home for widows and children affected by militancy, called Rahat Ghar (meaning solace) in Srinagar. We also equip those widows with vocational training and various skills that will enable them to stand on their own feet again."

The Guild also works with government agencies and other organisations to educate widows about their legal rights, helping them to open bank accounts and secure the state pensions they are entitled to.

Widespread phenomenon

Widows are stigmatised by society not only in India, but across the globe. Worldwide about 100 million widows and their children are ostracised, exploited, and harassed routinely by the societies they live in, according to the Loomba Trust, an international charity based in Britain that aims to educate the children of poor widows throughout India.

"For these widows, the widowhood means denial of basic human rights," Cherie Blair, president of the Trust and wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, said at an event at the UN last November to promote widows' rights.

In some countries, widows are subjected to constant harassment. They not only face legal obstacles to inheriting property, but are also unable to send their children to school.

That makes many widows and their children "the most vulnerable and the poorest of the poor," Blair said.

In a statement urging the UN to protect widows from abuse and exploitation, Blair referred to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that provides a roadmap to guarantee the rights of all individuals everywhere in the world.

She noted it was a widow who led the meeting that approved the Declaration in 1948. That meeting was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of the US president Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Blair has called for the world body to adopt a resolution designating June 23 as International Widows Day.

The Loomba Trust was established on June 23, 1997 to help poor widows in India and other developing countries.

The charity's work has been widely acknowledged by some of the world's most prominent figures, such as Laura Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Virgin Group's chairman, Sir Richard Branson. Though pleased with their response, Blair thinks it is "not enough" to address the problem. She wants the global community to recognise it "on a large scale".

A recent report by the Loomba Trust report points out that in several developing countries, widows are forced to marry their husband's brothers or enter into polygamous marriages, and are often subjected to sexual abuse by male members of their husband's extended families.

Cheated out of their inheritance, many widows are kicked out of their family homes along with their children. They are often forced to live on the streets, where they fall prey to the worst kinds of abuse, violence, and sexual exploitation.

In Afghanistan, Blair said, decades of fighting have left two million widows who are not allowed to make a living outside their homes because it is against custom. The suffering of women in other conflict zones is no less acute.

Most war widows cannot afford to send their children to school or feed them properly, said Blair, adding that the families headed by widows are getting caught in the vicious circle of illiteracy and malnutrition.

Data gathered by the Loomba Trust shows that in several countries, widows have minimal or sometimes no societal support, but are also the only breadwinners of the family. They run a whopping 84.4% of female-headed households in Iran, and 79% in Indonesia and Burma.

According to the Trust, widows who are the sole supporters of families are among the poorest people in urban informal labour markets and constitute large numbers of the marginally employed and rural unemployed.

"The appalling treatment just entrenches the cycle of poverty and deprivation," said Blair, "because if the mother has no money, the children are pulled out of school. With no education, they are doomed to spend their lives in most menial jobs if they get work at all."

Blair said it would be "impossible" to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) with the increasing number of women becoming widows due to conflicts and the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Although the UN promotes the empowerment of women in political participation, financial security, and gender equality in developing nations through agencies such as UNIFEM and UN-HABITAT, Blair said it is important for the world body to increase its focus on the micro level of emancipation of widows.

The report says that most widows in developing countries are also struggling to survive in the face of violent physical and mental abuse. Many widows are forced into prostitution or become victims of human trafficking.

Blair said that even in countries where laws exist to prevent the abuse of widows, lack of awareness and illiteracy impede legal aid.


Forget yourself for others, and others will never forget you.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


The UTI scheme SCUP (senior citizens unit plan) with the very enticing salient features launched in the year 1993 has wound up now in January 2008.

The salient features offered at the time of launch were

� One time payment according to age

� Hospitalisation up to 2.5 lakhs for both husband and wife when the investor attains 58 years.

� Cash less hospitalisation at the top hospitals in all major cities of India . Just by showing the identity log book.

� Two days free holiday package at beach/hill resorts.

� Free supply of periodicals/ health magazines

� Annuity according to the age of joining the scheme, when an investor attains the age of 58 years (Rs. 25000/- for an investor joining the scheme at the age 45 years paying Rs. 18400/-)

UTI has terminated the SCUP in the year 2000 and has not declared any dividend after 2002, and now wound up the scheme again for reasons unknown. UTI has taken this very intriguing hasty decision on 8th January 2008 to wind up the scheme, and set the dead line for repurchasing the balance units by 4th February 2008 at NAV rate of units based on 18th January 2008. The intimation and Form for re purchase was dubiously posted on 2nd. February 2008, giving investors only 2 days to respond to a letter posted from Mumbai. It is also mentioned that the Premium for the year 2007/2008 to be paid to the New India Assurance Company (NIAC) will be deducted from repurchased amount and balance if any will be sent to the investor (premium amount not mentioned).

When asked about the Annuity UTI owes to the investor, no one at the UTI could give an answer. The Relations Managers were not well informed about the scheme, and were lethargic and groping in the dark. In spite of a word given by one Manager, that he will provide us all the answers with in 48 hours, failed to respond even after 10 days. But UTI has informed the investors that medical coverage will continue as promised by the NIAC in future.

UTI has discontinued all agreements with all hospitals, and any investor who is sick and needs hospitalisation, will have to find means to pay the charges and get reimbursed later by NIAC.

Neither does the Abridged Annual Report of UTI for the year 2006/2007 mention any thing about the winding up of the scheme, nor does the Chairman, Managing Director, the Trustees or the Auditors.
It was not disclosed by the CMD, board of Trustees or by the auditors in the share holders meeting. How has UTI taken this decision?

UTI has not paid the annuity as promised nor has it honoured any of the promises shown in the salient features of this scheme, by taking such a hasty decision UTI has cheated all the senior citizens who have joined this scheme with so much hope.

All these amounts deficiency in service, breach of contract, distorting, manipulating and hiding Facts and untrustworthiness on the part of UTI.

M.A. Madhusoodanan.
SCUP ID No. SC96310000037
22A Rahul Nilaya,
5th Main , 10th Cross,
New Thippasandra P.O.
Bangalore - 560075.