On a chilly December afternoon, Santa brought sunshine to the lives of Vrindaban’s widows.
Wearing red Santa caps and singing carols, the women soaked in the spirit of Yuletide on Sunday. This was the first instance of widows in the city associated with Lord Krishna celebrating Christmas.
Widows converge here from all over the country to dedicate their lives to the worship of Lord Krishna. Many, however, are abandoned by their families in this city, situated on the banks of the river Yamuna, around 10 km from Mathura.
Till a few years ago, the condition of these widows was pitiable. Poet-writer late Mamoni Raisom Goswami had highlighted the physical and mental exploitation of the widows in her pathbreaking novel ‘Nilakantha Bajra’ (The blue-necked God) in 1976.
With several NGOs now helping the widows, their lives have improved to a great extent.
This year, they have already celebrated Holi, Diwali and Durga Puja.
On Sunday, for the widows of the century-old Meerasahabhagini Ashram, it was time for celebrating Christmas.
Wearing a red cap, 90-year-old Manu Ghosh was busy in decorating a Christmas tree since morning and grabbed chocolates like a child. She danced with many others for the first time to mark the festival.
It did not matter that they were doing it three days early.
“I have seen children celebrating this festival, so it is great experience to celebrate this time with my friends here,” said 72-year-old Anjana Goswami.
Many of the widows made candles and placed them near a Christmas tree for lighting on December 25.
For these widows, the efforts of Sulabh International have been immense in giving them a life of dignity.
Given the stigma attached to widows in many parts of the country, widows are not expected to take part in merry-making, as they are barred from auspicious occasions, denied ornaments and colourful sarees and even forbidden non-vegetarian food.
“Why can’t these women, who are part of our society, celebrate festivals?” asked Dr Bindeshwar Pathak, founder of Sulabh International.
His organisation has started imparting education to the widows of the city in Hindi, Bengali and English. Sulabh International also provides them a monthly stipend of Rs. 2,000 each.