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Elderly Widows in Rural India

Widowhood in India is a large critical social issue. Widows in India are facing a lot of problems and hardships in the family and society because of traditional norms, cultural practices and beliefs in the society, while ‘women continue to struggle for gender equality and women’s rights issues.’ It has been recorded that widow population in India is more than 33 million in the World. The elderly widows are higher than the male elderly. The statistic shows that 88% of widows in India live in households with a low or moderate standard of living. They are in poverty and oppression. Still widows in rural India have to live with isolation, underemployment, and vulnerability. They have to face extreme neglect.  It has been studied that they are alone, and they are abandoned by their son(s), friends, and neighbors. They are out of the family functions because they are socially excluded and in patriarchal Hindu Society, they have to authorize to preserve their widowhood through rituals. According to UNFPA and Help Age India (2012), men and women are experiencing old age differently. Widows are usually more vulnerable.

To know the living status of elderly widows of rural West Bengal, a study was conducted. For this purpose, 200 elderly widows within the age bracket of 60 years and above were selected through random purposive sampling. This study delineated that about 78% of them were illiterate and about 94 % had economic problems. About 62% faced discrimination due to caste and religious obligations. They were living alone with hunger and poorer health condition. Among them, 88% was in poor mental health (feeling of psychological neglect and isolation). They were victims of insecure property rights. Their living condition was improperly arranged. They had been suffering from social stigmas, and they had in lack of social support. Gender differences and inequalities limited them to access aging with dignity in their community.  Briefly, their living status might be considered as secondary in society. They remain socially, economically and medically marginalized.

To improve the condition of elderly widows, there is need of some economic security with dignity and respect, social awareness and public pressure. The preferences are to be given to land distribution, allotment of houses, health schemes and widow’s pension. There is need of registration of widow’s name in the land records after the death of husband. At local level, there is need of sensitization about the provisions of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007.

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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