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Is it necessary to address a ‘wife’ as ‘widow'? Let's say no to it

I had not heard the detestable word till a close friend lost her husband a few days after death snatched away mine.

comment Updated: Apr 23, 2015 01:12 IST
Sunita Aron
Sunita Aron
Hindustan Times

I had not heard the detestable word till a close friend lost her husband a few days after death snatched away mine.

Till the prayer meeting at her place, there was only grief as we were the ‘wives’ who had lost their dear husbands just as our families and friends had lost their brother, friend, son, father et al.

The new nomenclature, used for women after they lose their spouse, did not occur to me at all when I was mourning my husband’s sudden demise. But a thunderbolt hit me hard when the mentor of my friend’s husband — a former principal of a reputed school — inadvertently addressed her as his ‘widow’ while paying tribute to her husband at the prayer meeting held on the fourth day.

Within four days a ‘wife’ had become a ‘widow’.

Technically speaking there is nothing wrong in using the word ‘widow’ which has a place in all dictionaries as well as scriptures.

Emotionally, the word reminds the wife of her painful loss and the barbaric practices widows endure in some parts of the country—maybe across the world.

It also brings to mind the disturbing images of women dressed in white and draped in gloom, chandan tikka on their forehead— the ones you see in Vrindavan and Haridwar, often denied all happiness that comes with celebrations of festivals and family functions.

Why should a woman be subjected to a traumatic nomenclature and a lifestyle?

The rebel in me instantly woke up as I tried to recall when I last heard the word ‘widower’.

How would one recognise a widower — he is neither addressed so nor does he change his style of dressing after losing his wife. In ancient days there were reasons to make her ‘unattractive to protect her’ but then there have been boundless tales of their humiliation even after they got their head shaved.

Is it necessary to address a ‘wife’ as ‘widow? Even after losing her husband she remains a wife — with ‘late’ affixed to her husband’s name in all forms and formalities. She needs support, not sympathy, as her responsibility doubles to independently face the world.

A friend’s daughter recently insisted that her wedding invite should be from both her ‘late father’ and her mother. There was a hue and cry over this as it went against the traditions laid down by God knows who.

She stood her ground and exclaimed, “I don’t mind people getting invites from a ghost daddy.” Her other argument was that her scientist mother had an identity other than the ‘wife’ of her father.

A woman dons many mantles. The death of a spouse comes as a quake that shatters life. Why humiliate her by calling her a ‘widow’, which tends to overshadow all her other relations and responsibilities? She remains a mother, daughter, sister, professional and housewife. Let her remain the wife of her late husband.

The prime minister and chief ministers should think of renaming the scheme ‘Vidhva Pension Yojana’ (Widow Pension Scheme) because surely the idea behind the programme is to empower the woman in distress and not make her feel like a ‘lesser mortal’.

It’s just a matter of replacing the word ‘widow’ with ‘wife’ in all forms and communications. Let her feel she is not a burden on earth—but a normal human being who has an independent identity and aspires to be happy.

I write this as a wife who strongly feels that the sky won’t fall if one word is removed from the dictionary.

I am the voice of thousands of silent women which will not go unheard in the echelons of power and our fast-changing society.

Are you listening, Prime Minister?

First Published: Apr 22, 2015 21:21 IST