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Elderly widows in rural India live in isolation, vulnerability, extreme neglect, oppression

By Harasankar Adhikari 

Widowhood is a critical social issue, even today in global India. Here, widows are facing a lot of problems and hardships in the family and society because of traditional norms, cultural practises, and beliefs, while women continue to struggle for gender equality and women’s rights issues. The elderly widows are higher than the male elderly. It has been recorded that the widow population in India is more than 33 million in the world. The statistic shows that 88% of widows in India live in households with a low or moderate standard of living. They are living in poverty and oppression.
Still, widows in rural India have to live with isolation, underemployment, and vulnerability. They have to face extreme neglect. They have no option for an old-age home. It has been studied that they are alone, and they are abandoned by their son(s), friends, and neighbours. They are excluded from family functions because they are socially excluded, and in patriarchal Hindu society, they have to be authorised to preserve their widowhood through rituals. According to UNFPA and Help Age India (2012), men and women experience old age differently. Poor widows are usually more vulnerable.
To know the living status of elderly rural widows in East Midnapore district, West Bengal, a study was conducted. For this purpose, 200 elderly widows within the age bracket of 60 years and above were selected through random purposive sampling. This study determined that about 78% of them were illiterate and about 94 % had economic problems. Only 48% of them were getting an old age pension of Rs. 1000 from the government of West Bengal. That is not enough to manage their daily hunger needs. Further, it is sometimes not regular. Due to their illiteracy and problems with physical mobility, they had to depend on other sources of support for the withdrawal of their pension from their respective banks. An amount from, their pension had to be shared other for their assistance. About 62% faced discrimination due to caste and religious obligations. They were living alone with hunger and poorer health conditions. Among them, 88% were in poor mental health (feelings of psychological neglect and isolation). They were victims of insecure property rights. Their living conditions were improperly arranged. They had been suffering from social stigma and a lack of social support. Gender differences and inequalities limited their access to ageing with dignity in their community. Briefly, their living status might be considered secondary in society. They remain socially, economically, and medically marginalised.
To improve the condition of elderly widows, there is a need for some economic security with dignity and respect, social awareness, and public pressure. The preferences are to be given to land distribution, allotment of houses, health schemes, and widow’s pensions. There is a need for the registration of the widow’s name in the land records after the death of the husband. At the local level, there is a need for sensitization about the provisions of the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007.

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