Empowering Gujarat’s Widows
Ms Cherie Blair, wife of former British Premier Tony Blair, during her visit to India in the month of December 2011, underlined the need for special initiatives to improve the lifestyles of widows in India, terming the current welfare measures meant for them as inadequate.
Over 25 crore widows and their 50 crore children suffer in silence worldwide. In India, most of them are living in a deplorable condition without adequate health facilities and social security. There are more than 40 million widows in India—10 per cent of the country’s female population. And the majority of these women’s life is what some have described as a “living sati”.
Only 28 per cent of the widows in India are eligible for pensions, and of that number, less than 11 per cent actually receive the payments to which they’re entitled. If a woman is not financially independent, she’s at the mercy of her in laws and her parents. And if they don’t have the will or the resources to take care of her and her children, she’s on her own.
Hindu widows especially are faced with a battery of societal taboos; the general rule of thumb is that the higher their caste, the more restrictions widows face. Traditionally, when a man dies, his widow is expected to renounce all earthly pleasures.
Widows should no longer look attractive, and are expected to wear only simple white saris for the rest of their lives. On the news of their husband’s death, they break their bangles and can no longer wear jewellery or use sindoor—cinnabar red powder women wear in their parting and on their foreheads to denote their married status.
In a country where majority of the population reside in villages, single women with little or no formal education seem to be lost in a jumble. Because of this handicap, they have to stumble upon roadblocks and face hardships every single day of their life.
But in Gujarat the situation of widow is different from that in the rest of the country. Widow women do not have to depend on their parents or in-laws.
Empowering the widow women, the Government of Gujarat has been organising entrepreneurship training programme for nine consecutive years now. As per the survey there are about 1,51,603 BPL widows and 1,45,495 APL widows in the state. Out of this, state government gives pension and training to 1,23,684 widows.
For widows in the age group of 18-40 years, the state government has been providing various kinds of training enabling them to independently earn their livelihood. They are offered courses in animal husbandry, tailoring, computer training, etc. After the successful completion of the training, tool-kits worth Rs 5,000 are provided to them for free.
In cases where they want to establish independent businesses they are introduced to the banks for marginal money support. Every year about 10,000 widows get trained under this scheme.
Manishaben Patel residing in Ahmedabad had lost her husband within nine months of her marriage. She received a five-week computer training course and now she works as an Administrative Assistant in a private limited company. She proudly says that she has now begun to value her innate abilities. She still feels the need to keep updating herself and has a desire to learn tally programming and computer hardware. She earns Rs 10,000 to 12,000 every month.
Amtulla Ikbalbhai Daudivohra from Chuda village of Surendranagar district is a 29-year-old widow and she runs a small shop in her village. She was not employed and had little formal education. After joining the women empowerment programme, she has never looked back. Once the training was over she received financial support of Rs 5,000. She runs a small novelty store and easily earns Rs 5000 per month. She says that she is very happy that the government is running a programme to make them financially independent.
Gujarat takes pride in its widows who never sit idle. They run beauty parlours, grocery stores, sell vegetables or are being trained to work in private firms. Widow entrepreneurship is blooming in Gujarat with the various schemes of state government and the lives of widows have become much easier both financially and socially. They are now career-oriented and have an aim in life. This initiative would not only serve women education and empowerment, but will also boost the economy of the state. The Gujarat government encourages widows to take up entrepreneurship rather than being dependent on pensions and has now set an example for other states to follow.
By Madhuri Shukla from Ahmedabad