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Our CIR, Jenny Morley, recently learned via the CIR of New Zealand, Shirley Gillett, about the treatment of widows in India. The latter had been alerted to the situation by Gomathy Venkateswar who, in July 2012, attended a session of the United Nations in New York as a delegate of Virginia Gildersleeve.

During the discussion, which centered on the marginalizing of widows across the world, Gomathy had felt brave enough to ask if the speaker, Madame Bachelet, the then President of UN Women, had heard about the widows of Benaras and Brindavan, two holy Hindu pilgrim centres, notorious for housing thousands of widows.

Apparently young and old were banished there for the rest of their lives for having become widows as it was considered inauspicious for them to remain in the family anymore. Madame Bachelet asked the Indian representative for further information so that she could look into the matter with a view to improving this state of affairs.

At this session there were many delegates of NGOs representing widows who had lost their husbands in war or conflict zones, and on the platform there was also Mrs. Cherie Blair, Chair of the Loomba Foundation. This charity had been set up by Lord Loomba, of Indian origin, in memory of his mother who, as a widow, in trying circumstances, had migrated with her 3 children to the UK.

Two years later Gomathy received an invitation from the UN Women’s office in Delhi to attend a 4-day conference in Udaipur to discuss the rehabilitation of widows in India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. There she learned that the widows of Brindavan, many with children, had been relocated to prefab houses very close to the city of Udaipur where the children were going to school and the women were being trained in various skills. She likes to think this could have had something to do with her earlier intervention at the UN.

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