Visitors from the Basil Grove

There was a time when Indian women, once widowed would be burnt in their husband’s funeral pyre. That practice was banned centuries ago and reformers fought hard against the ill-treatment of widows, advocating that they should be allowed to remarry. Sadly the attitude of the society towards them hasn’t changed significantly and high caste widows – mostly from Bihar and Bengal – regularly get abandoned in Vrindavan. The Lord, is supposed be their saviour henceforth.

Vrindavan literally translates to the grove/forest of Holy Basil. It is an important Hindu pilgrimage site 10 km from Mathura. Lord Krishna is believed to have been born in Mathura and spent most of his childhood in Vrindavan. Today the town boasts of one of the oldest temples in the country and a migrant population comprising of almost entirely of widows.

Widows in Vrindavan live in the streets, or in an ashram, and they etch out a meager existence by begging and doing menial work. One day, they were informed that they weren’t welcome in the city which has now become their home, by actor-turned-MP Hema Malini. Where will the widows go if she is deprived of the little support system that Vrindavan offers? That is a question Ms. Malini doesn’t deem worthy of answering.

The good folks at Sulabh International decided to something special for these ladies. A lot of them hail from Bengal and they were brought to the Owl City ahead of Durga Puja. After the important stuff like meeting the Governor, and other important people, the ladies got to take a ferry ride to Dakshineswar Temple. They even visited Kumartuli, went to Puja pandals as finishing touches were being put on them, and topped it with a tram ride through the city.

All the while they chanted and sang “Radhe Radhe” with a smile that could encompass all creation. Their spontaneous innocent energy was touching to say the least. Here are a few glimpses.