“No woman should lose her rights when she loses her husband, but an estimated 115 million widows live in poverty, and 81 million have suffered physical abuse,” says UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ahead of International Widows’ Day on June 23.
Being a widow in India can be akin to a death sentence. Some women have been known to throw themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres, an act known as sati. Though the act has been banned, women who commit sati have traditionally been seen as goddesses.
Meanwhile, living widows face widespread discrimination. More than 6000 widows have settled in the city of Vrindavan, having been cast out of their husbands’ families.
The city celebrates Holi, the festival of colours. While tradition forbids widows from taking part, women have taken steps recently to claim their place in Holi. Supported by NGO Sulabh International, women took part in this year’s festivities by throwing flowers, playing with pichkaris (water guns) and gulal (coloured powder).
“Playing Holi is a form of protest for these women. They want to be treated as human beings and allowed to live their lives the way they want,” says the founder of Sulabh Bindeshwar Pathak. Around 1000 widows came for the festivities this year.
“I wish this colour never comes off,” said one attendee.