Tiny Conversations – no colors for a widow

When I was widowed, we lived in a very conservative and restrictive society in a rather backward province at the time. So things were pretty bad for me with my sort of disregard for their stifling conventions that made no sense to me.

It was a society that took away the colors from a widow’s life, literally and figuratively too. Any kind of fun and enjoyment was banned for her. Dressing up was absolutely forbidden – no jewelry either. As if that weren’t enough, society had decreed that these unfortunate women could only wear certain colors – specifically, a dull, dark maroon and a dull greenish-blue. This identified them as widows. It horrified me that such rules were imposed on them. Imagine wearing clothes that put a tag on you WIDOW for everyone’s information! As if they hadn’t suffered enough. And for what purpose? It wasn’t their fault that fate had dealt them such a blow!

I recall a social acquaintance of mine, one who is a non-practicing, lawyer, telling me why the women of their society “willingly” accepted these social norms. She tried to explain it to me by quoting her widowed mother:

“My mother accepted it because she believed, ‘Once a husband dies, there is no color left in life. Life becomes totally colorless.‘ This is why it is okay for them to wear these colors and not wear jewelry nor participate in festivals and entertainment of any kind.”

“Oh, really?” I interrupted her with undisguised sarcasm. “What about the men, the widowers?”

“What about them,” she countered. “They are men. These things don’t apply to them They can carry on their lives.”

“Exactly my point – Why doesn’t it apply to them? Why does everyone start looking out for a wife for the widower, but push the widow into deeper misery? Why do they strip her of her dignity and self-respect? Why do they want to kill her spirit? Why make them like living corpses that way?”

“That’s how it’s been for years and that’s how it will remain. Who can stop it? At least it is better than Sati.”

“If the practice of Sati (burning the wife alive on the funeral pyre of the husband) can be stopped and declared a crime, this can be too. All it takes is the decision to fight against it. All it needs is one strong person to stand against it.”

“That’s what you think. We women don’t think so.”

“How many young widows have you asked about how they feel and what they think about this, with the assurance of confidentiality and secrecy?”

“I don’t need to ask anyone,” she was riled and het up. “This is our ‘rivaaz’. Our culture. And our society will follow it.”

“And are women in this ‘rivaaz’ consulted? Are they even represented when rules are made and imposed on them by ‘society’?

“It is a male dominated society. The women will never be consulted.”

“Not for long. Take my word. Change is coming. The winds are changing direction. But I’m keen to know, will you accept and support the change when it comes? You yourself have broken the boundaries of your social culture, you went against all that your society deemed wrong. Didn’t you? You are living your life on your terms. Will you be brow beaten if, god forbid, diktats such as these are imposed on you?”

She preferred to let silence speak for her. And the silence spoke louder than her words.

10 thoughts on “Tiny Conversations – no colors for a widow

  1. It was shocking for me too! But that was over two decades ago! I’m sure things have changed now. At least in the cities of that province. Can’t say about the small towns and villages. But not all communities are so heartless. There are many who do not subscribe to such treatment of widows.

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      1. A society governed by men! Even today in certain cities of northern India, many widows’ heads are shorn, and they are sent away to live in widow ashrams! Though things have changed a lot in many cities, not all widows have good lives.

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      2. Cultures around the world are different. Not all the communities in India treat their widows this way. And things have changed quite a bit in many communities… slackened a bit. Some just hold on. Usually, it’s the poor, or the backward communities which continue to keep these traditions with a little less severity. Most of them aren’t educated. And even if they have access to education, it’s the boys who get priority. Girls are married off young and most often uneducated. But it’s not a situation pan India. There are pockets where Hindu customs of old still operate where the women are concerned! It’s sad.

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  2. That’s true. I don’t like so many practices in many cultures. But I also realize that what I think is right and what works well for me isn’t always what works for those of a different social system and culture. I just hope with time someone will have the courage to change the system for better practices. Gandhi abolished Sati which was a horrendous Hindu practice. And many other practices have also been done away with. One can hope!

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