Tradition and superstition play a vital role in making life difficult for single women in India

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By Sheshu Babu

As atrocities on women are rising, it is becoming increasing unsafe for women to live without fear. The findings of a global perception poll conducted by Thomson Reuters Foundation, a charity which surveyed 558 experts on women’s issues in order to  assess nations on overall safety of women found that India is the least safe country. (Tish Sanghera, June 27, 2018, indiaspend.com). In 2011, when the last poll was conducted, India ranked fourth. The problems to ‘single’ women  (widows and unmarried or divorced, etc) can easily be imagined.

Many international days have passed with the government launching schemes with fanfare, but few have noticed ‘international widows day.’ Women were not able to meet the PM to explain their problems, and so, 10,000 single women have decided to write postcards (June,25,2018, dnaindia.com). In a campaign spearheaded by the National Forum for Single Women’s Rights, women are expected to write till June 30 to officials and chief ministers. According to the 2011 census, single women were estimated as 5,05,09,941, which includes widowed, single, unmarried, divorced, etc. According to some estimates, there are around 258,481,056 globally  with 584,574,358 children (include adult children), according to the Loomba Foundation’s ‘World Widows Report’ (Emma Batha, December 21, 2015, weforum.org). As the article states, India has become the largest country, with the population of widows overtaking China.

With the Manu order prevalent in society, women face problems of safe living. This is more so in the case of single women because they are vulnerable to attacks by male. To earn their livelihood, they have to work in society. But, they are humiliated and insulted most of the time mostly by male colleagues as well as by some females. Tradition and superstition play a vital role in making life difficult for single women. While upper caste and educated women may tackle the situation courageously, the rural uneducated women may find it all the more difficult in facing patriarchal society.

Most of the single women live in poverty. One in every seven widowed women live in poverty globally, according to a UN report of 2015. These women mostly live in rural and remote areas. Not having land is a problem in villages, because women mostly work in fields as agricultural labourers. They need support when they are widowed or live as single women. Land holding would be a great help to earn their livelihood.

Another problem relates to inaccessibility of justice system. In rural areas, panchayats do not deliver justice promptly. Women who are separated or divorced fight for justice for decades. Pension for widows is also delayed due to bureaucratic hurdles. Thus, social security system is necessary to assist these women. They need financial assurance to live without fear.

The conflicts between rulers and adivasis, dalits and tribals in forest areas also cause much suffering to women. Husbands of many are being killed by security forces. Elderly single women are being forced to suffer due to displacement and torture caused by eviction from their lands. Loneliness compounded by lack of rehabilitation affects their lives to a great extent.

It is unfortunate that the Prime Minister could not give time to listen to the demands of widows and single women. They are the most vulnerable in the present cruel social order. They have to constantly bear sexual abuses, discrimination, social apathy and even aversion from their parents,  family and the society outside their home. They should be given recognition and security so that they can live with dignity and courage. The legal system should help them to overcome financial and social problems.

Superstition and subjugation of women pose hindrance to many women and single widows or divorced women, who face challenges of psychologically nature. The society should try to assist them instead of separating them from mainstream gatherings. Only then sizeable number of destitute single women can live happily.


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