It is not very often that I indulge in the ardent regionalism which seems to affect my countrymen. I have always considered myself “Indian’’ first and not really got down to being Odia. At times, I do fall into the delicious trap of measuring people’s vis-a-vis their home-state which I guess we all indulge in, with malice towards none. That’s something quintessentially Indian, right ? So, while I marvel at the handsome Sardars from Punjab, I couldn’t ever dream of dating one….I wouldn’t have been very sure whose long hair , mine or his,I would pull in uh- uh romantic excitement ! Or let’s talk about the people from Bengal….many times I wish to scream from the rooftop that Ma Durga’s surname is not just Chatterjee, Banerjee etc etc. It can very well be Rawat or Jha!
I can go on and on about all the diversities, which we pick on, despite our unity, but allow me to be unashamedly regional/parochial today and declare that my heart burst with a gladness at the actions of a fellow Odia and my home state Odisha.
I am talking about the Chief MInister of Odisha, Shri Naveen Patnaik.
And here is why this man needs to be applauded.
He has reached out to the widows in the holy city of Puri.
The holy month of “Kartik’ began from October 16th . Thousands of widows assemble at Puri to perform ‘Habisa’ (penance) as a mark of respect to Lord Jagannth during the month of Kartik.The Government of Odisha launched the ‘Kartik Habis Brata Yojana’ which is aimed at facilitating free lodging, health care and food for the Hindu widows during the holy month in Puri. ,As many as 2000 widows will get free accommodation, Mahaprasad and health care under this scheme.The government plans to accommodate even more beneficiaries next year onwards.
Perhaps, one of the most heartrending scenes is that of scores of widows sitting with a vacant look in the holy temples of Kashi, Vrindavan, Varanasi, Mathura, Puri. Some are old and infirm;some are young and beautiful. What unites them is that they have been shunned and abandoned by their families. They lead lives shorn of dignity. Over the babble of the hymns they recite, no one really hears their cry for begging to be considered ‘living’ beings. For although ‘Sati’ ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sati_(practice) was abolished aeons ago, the utter desolation of/in the lives of widows, cannot be termed anything else than ‘living sati’. Every single day they burn in a hell created by misogyny, patriarchal hegemony, societal conservatism and apathy.
Many days the widows do not get enough to eat and depend on the compassion and conscience of random strangers. Deepa Mehta’s powerful cinema ‘Water’ chillingly portrays the fate of a young widow who is sexually exploited. Art always mirrors life. And ‘life’ for the widows is that of merciless abuse by those who provide ‘shelter’ to them. In ‘’Benares: The Sacred City, In verses & hymns’’, Mandira Ghosh pens down these poignant lines about the fate of widows ‘‘Still tears/Of widowed women/Her reflective grey hair/Shaken by wind and attitude/Broken by sand/Still their voices are still.’
There are many individuals and organizations who have taken up the issue of widows welfare in right earnest. The efforts of Sulabh International are praiseworthy in this regard. What touched me most about the measures was that along with financial, housing, health issues focussed upon, they sought to bring back colour and beauty into the lives of widows — these abandoned women played ‘Holi’ in Vrindavan, saw the Taj Mahal and very recently also participated in a fashion show in Delhi ! (http://www.sulabhinternational.org/news/ ) Being widowed does not stop her from being feminine…from wanting to wearing bright colours….jewellery….makeup.My eyes became moist when I looked the photographs. I felt ashamed too. There are so many things that I take for granted.
On every visit of mine to the Jagannath temple, I sit amongst the widows and talk to them, buy them Mahaprasad , offer small amount of money.This is the proverbial drop in the ocean, I know. Rehabilitation of widows needs to be institutionalised.Yet, I cannot help but think that if/whenever each of us visit Kashi, Varanasi, Mathura, Puri, Vrindavan such small individual gestures would go a long way in filling up the ocean of humanity.
Thank you Chief Minister, Shri Naveen Patnaik. I would like to believe that your’s is a similar individual gesture of compassion and reaching out.
( photograph from the Internet for illustration only)