WB to partner Sulabh to improve the lot of 'tiger widows'

Moved by the plight of women whose husbands were killed by tigers in the Sunderbans, the West Bengal government today said it would join hands with social oganisation Sulabh International to ameliorate the miseries of the 'tiger widows'.

According to reports over 1000 men were killed by tigers in the Sunderbans forest in the past few years when they ventured inside the dense mangrove forest in the absence of toilets in their homes and for collecting wood and honey.

The hapless widows have been branded as 'swami-kheko" (husband eaters) by their superstitious in-laws.

The Sunderbans, which is the world's largest mangrove forest located between India and Bangladesh, has attained the dubious distinction of being home to a large number of widows.

The initiative was announced at the day-long 'Workshop on the Emancipation and Empowerment of Widows' held by Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar Foundation here.

About 12 widows from the Sunderbans attended the function. Besides them widows from Nabadwip in West Bengal and from Vrindavan and Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh were present at the workshop which deliberated on the plight of women whose husbands were dead and ways to erase the social stigma attached to them.

Among the personalities present at the programme were Subrata Mukherjee the West Bengal public health engineering and panchayat minister, Sashi Panja the minister of state for women and child development, Sulabh International founder Bindeshwar Pathak and Niladri Banerjee, descendant of legendry 19th century social reformer Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, who had pioneered widow remarriage.

Mukerjee lamented that even after so many years since Independence the condition of the widows is poor.

He hailed the initiative of Sulabh International to work for the welfare of the Sunderbans widows and said that the state government would cooperate with it.

Panja too appreciated the Sulabh International initiative and emphasised on changing the people's mindset towards widows.

"Laws exist but a real change in the fortune of widows can be achieved only by changing the mindset of the people towards these hapless women," Panja said and promised to work in tandem with Sulabh International for widows of the Sunderbans and other areas of West Bengal.

Pathak expressed his sorrow over the fate of the 'tiger widows' and said Sulabh International would work with the state government to improve their lots and make them financially strong.

Pathak said that instead of using the term 'vidhwa' (widow) these women should be addressed as 'saheli' (friend) to erase the social stigma attached to them.

Banerjee, who is a lecturer of Physics at the University of Cambridge, expressed sorrow that even after more than 150 years of enactment of Hindu Widow Remaariage Act of 1856 social evils remain in the society.

Vidyasagar's descendant said he would associate himself with Sulabh initiative for widows in the Sunderbans and other parts of West Bengal.

Sulabh International, a noted NGO in the field of sanitation, has earn praise for working for the widows of Vrindavan.

The organisation is working for their welfare to pay its respect to a wish of the Supreme Court which had in 2012 asked National Legal Service Authority (NALSA) to see if Sulabh could help the widows of Vrindavan.

Pathak said since August 2012 Sulabh International has been providing a monthly stipend of Rs 2000 to nearly 800 widows living in the ashrams in Vrindavan. In addition they are provided regular medical assistance and an honourable funeral in case of death.

They are also provided training in computer and trades like tailoring, knitting, machine embroidery and incense stick manaufacturing to make them economically independent.

Sulabh on its part markets their products.

Karuna Mondal of Hiranmoypur village in Basanti area of the Sunderbans, whose husband was killed by a tiger 10 years ago when he had gone to collect honey in the forest, expressed happiness over initiative. Saraswati Chowkidar and Sheela Chowkidar, who too hail from Sunderbans, echoed similar views.

They said there are more than 1000 widows like them in the Sunderbans who are struggling hard to survive. Over 200 of them are under the age of 25.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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