Disturbing article about Hindu widows


Written on Thursday, July 05, 2007 by Jessica

When a Hindu woman is widowed, it's a sign of bad luck, so her family ostracizes her.

Hindu widows are shunned from society when their husbands die, not for religious reasons, but because of tradition -- and because they're seen as a financial drain on their families.

They cannot remarry. They must not wear jewelry. They are forced to shave their heads and typically wear white. Even their shadows are considered bad luck.
These women are reduced to begging in the streets for food. I think I will never cease to wonder in awe at the potential for cruelty, indifference, and cold-heartedness in humanity.

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  1. Anonymous |

    I think this news article does not deserve the first page publishing. This clearly describes how the author is representing something that majority of Indians may not even be aware of. Lack of information or over confidence in publishing. There was a movie made on this topic and I had the same opinion on that movie as other than the interesting script or good acting, it does not represent even 0.1% of what Indian society really is. Varanasi is just a city in India. I have lived in India for 3 decades and ironically (contrary to this article), I never hard of anyone who was in this state. Publishing an article that may only to few thousand people in a population of a billion is not a justification. That's the reason I always consider CNN reporting to be one sided and that lacks substance and usually is interesting but is not a true picture of the society. I would be happy to talk to the author and explain what India is and would like to see if they can publish articles that represent the true India. At this time, I have never seen any social cause article before on CNN (published on the front page) so this is a true misrepresentation of any country.

  2. Anonymous |

    "I think I will never cease to wonder in awe at the potential for cruelty, indifference, and cold-heartedness in humanity."

    I agree. Especially how your country continues to bomb innocent children and women in Iraq. Ah well - guess that's too much to handle...let's focus on India instead!

  3. Anonymous |

    This is surely some one's way to get to the next level in CNN. Does not reflect the majority. I mean the 99.99% of widows. 15K out of 40Mil is less than 0.37%

    And by the way, how many western families take care of their parents! Talk about the issues in own country rather than looking around to find sensitive topic around the world. Actual issue could be poverty.

    If CNN is really worried about it, please do something about poverty.

  4. Anonymous |

    I just saw that in the comments section for this article, CNN has published a comment by someone called Rajen Patel who says "Not to mention that not too long ago, the Hindu bastards forced their widows to be burned alive with their dead husbands". This is clearly inflammatory ( the whole tone of the comment is inflamatory and fundamentalist in nature) and comments like this can cause social disturbance. Given CNN's editorial policy that comments are moderated, the unedited publication of such comments casts a lot of doubt not only on CNN's motive in publishing this comment, but also on publishing this article as headline news in the first place - again I condemn that this practice occurs at all, but the original article's lack of statistics brings into question the wholesale generalization attempted by it, the author's motivation in writing the article, and CNN's motivation in publishing it.

  5. Anonymous |

    I invite you all to look at a study done about this subject, and then make your opinions:


    Especially look at the tables at the bottom, including age demographics, locations, etc.

  6. Anonymous |

    Anonymous, I looked at the study you mentioned. It is informative about the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the widows in Varanasi and Vrindavan. However, the study does not have a "control group" drawn from widows outside these cities (a sample drawn from all matropolitan cities in India for example), with the stattistics regarding their conditions and their socio-economic and demographic characteristics.

    Anonymous 1

  7. Anonymous |

    The insinuation that this is a common practice in Hindu society in India today is completely bogus and blatantly untrue. Story on India = shocking or exotic. The editors at CNN need to grow out of the elephant/snake-charmer vision of India, seriously. The story of the destitute widows of Varanasi is one of human tragedy. But the cruelty meted out to them is an exception, not a rule. It speaks more about the depraved mentality of the children and extended families of the victims who throw them out, than of Hindu society in general. THIS is the distinction that the CNN story conveniently avoids. It's like reporting a story on the murders of homeless on the streets of America's cities and leaving the story open-ended to show that that's how Christian America treats the poorest of its citizens. However, it is shameful that such a situation still exists in this day and age in India today, in however small a scale. That said, there is nothing more ironic than an American news organization lecturing Eastern societies on how to take care of the elderly! Coming from a country where there is no concept of 'respect', and where it is an accepted part of life to be put in a 'home' once you are past your use-by date, only to be visited once every two years by the same children that you once parented, it is a bit rich!!

  8. Anonymous |

    CNN is right. Hindus thrash their parents. OK, from now on, let America keep a ban on giving immigration to these barbarious Indians. Let America bring nice people from their friendly countries like Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait etc. All these countries are democratic and practice human rights !!!
    After all America give Green card lottery to only those countries who train terrorists !!!!!!!!!Good that America is not giving these type of gifts to the barbarious Hindus !!!!!!!
    India brought Yoga and meditation to this world. India gave birth to Gandhi and Budha to this world....But not Bin Ladens. This may be the reason, why CNN want the Americans to hate India and love the Islamic terorist countries.

    There is a saying in Indian villages " its difficult to get immgration to the US, unless you are a Muslim or a terrorist" !!!!!!!!!

    Shame on CNN for poor journalism

  9. Anonymous |

    I thought an average American has below par knowledge about other countries and cultures. But this article is TOO MUCH.
    Indian culture is famous for its Joint family system, respecting elders, social descipline etc.

    Now CNN has invented something new. Its like a revelation. Old people in India are on the streets !!!!!!!The oldest religion in this world,( Hinduism ) which welcomed all other cultures to its home land, a religion which taught to see the whole world as one family, a religion which never told bad about any other belief systems, a religion which never sent missionaries abroad, a religion which never attacked any other nation in history is being dragged to mud.....

    I feel sad about a news agency like CNN to go to such low levels. I feel more sad about America.

    Not knowing facts about other countries and cultures, have harmed America a lot, even in policy making to such an extent that even our security is at risk now. Medias like CNN should grow more and be responsible to be truthful. otherwise the consequences are far reaching to the future of a nation like America.

  10. Jessica |

    Wow. I never expected such a response. What I find really interesting is how so many people read the article and saw a condemnation of India and Hinduism, whereas I read the article an saw a condemnation of humanity. Even though it's happening on a small scale, it's still an example cruelty, indifference, and cold-heartedness among humans. I'm still in awe of it.

    Earlier today I was remembering a news story last year from November where a woman microwaved her baby. How could someone microwave a newborn baby?

    Of course, she's just one crazy person. The large-scale examples such as what others have pointed out in their comments amaze and horrify me, too. Around the world, orphans are neglected, soldiers chop off the hands of children or execute civilians, democratic governments ship people to other countries to torture them, poor people suffer -- and all the while people manage to look the other way.

    I still remember watching my television in disbelief as the story of Hurricane Katrina unfolded. Tens of thousands were stranded without adequate food or shelter, and what did people say? "Why should the government help them? They should've left when the government told them to." Never mind that they were simply too poor to evacuate. How do you leave when you don't have a car? How do you leave when you don't have enough money to put gas in the tank?

    I haven't even started on the subject of cruelty to animals.

    So despite the dismay and even anger caused by my post, my opinion hasn't really changed. The capacity in humans for indifference and cruelty knows no bounds. As a member of the human race, I suppose that's a condemnation of myself.

  11. Anonymous |

    "What I find really interesting is how so many people read the article and saw a condemnation of India and Hinduism"

    Maybe this will help to make it clear why people are offended:
    First point under story highlights says:
    "India's Hindu widows can't remarry, are forced to shave heads and wear white"

    As generalizations go, this is perhaps one of the biggest lies I have come across. This is an ignorant and arrogant assumption, based on very very poor research and collection of data.

    Take the lines:
    "There are an estimated 40 million widows in India, the least fortunate of them shunned and stripped of the life they lived when they were married.
    It's believed that 15,000 widows live on the streets of Vrindavan, a city of about 55,000 in northern India."

    The insinuation is clear. 15000 destitute (debatable again) widows in Varanasi. 40 million in India. See the horrors in Varanasi. Imagine the horror stories in the rest of the country.
    In a country of a billion people, taking a sample of 15000 people and making sweeping statements against an entire nation and way of life is just yellow journalism.

    I'm not sure whether you are aware of the tremendous ill will that evangelical christians (90% of them funded by southern United States based evangelical organizations, many in Atlanta) have generated in India over the last few decades with their blatant proselytizing, coercive religious conversion and slander against India's ancient belief systems. If you did, you would understand why repeated abuse of Indian and Hindu culture and belief systems in Western mainstream media offends us so much and needs to be countered at every step. For a pacifist, non-proselytizing, all-embracing religion, to have an agressive, offensive, very well funded bunch of people whose sole aim in life seems to be to prove that they are what they are because they are not us, breathing down our necks and ramming their beliefs down the throats of the most vulnerable in our society, is disgusting, and scary.
    I'm sure you wouldn't be so surprised if some Jewish organization took offence (and sued) CNN for some perceived slight to Judaism. The fact is that the world is so used to a passive and docile India that any protest shocks their set belief that Indians can take offence.

    You are right. It is a condemnation of humanity and an example of cruelty, indifference and cold-heartedness among humans. Unfortunately, the CNN article did not see it that objectively. Not when it brought Hinduism into the picture. What does the cruelty meted out to the elderly by anybody have anything to do with religion? Does Hinduism sanction such actions? That's what the author (due to plain ignorance or subconscious religious bigotry) seems to suggest!!

    As far as inhuman treatment to the elderly is concerned, having lived in the United States for sometime, I doubt it is possible to beat the money-worshipping, I-me-myself, anything-for-success, selfish society that is America. Indeed, among the social traits of Asians and South-Asians which Americans find absolutely alien, are taking care of parents and the elderly. So it strikes us as a bit rich when the same people turn around and pick up an obscure story and paint an entire nation and culture with one brush.

    Will CNN do a story on the LDS Church and polygamic cults and have its main highlight as "America's teenage girls are forced into polygamic marriages with older men, and are held as sexual slaves of cult leaders who proclaim themselves to be God."?
    I for one, am not holding my breath...

  12. Anonymous |

    A society who can thinly disguise indifference, cruelty, and sadistic behavior, and weave them in the fabric of tradition, is without honor.

    If humanity accepts, condones, and endorses these “traditional” values, then what argument could we offer if another Hitler comes along, kill millions of people in gas chamber, and his rationalization; “its German tradition you understand, I have nothing personal against them.”

    India has earned the # 1 spot, and should be the poster child of Human Rights Violations. What is so disturbing is that the cruelty inflicted is not due to hate, ethnic cleansing, or religious beliefs; is due to cold hard cash.

    Once “loved” wife’s and mothers, now shun as widows; abandoned when perceived a financial burden.

    In a way it’s not surprising, from birth to death Indian women are treated like dirt, or an aberration. Many aborted prior to birth, others killed after death and buried in shallow graves; the marriage dowry, another mindless tradition, makes baby girl an unrealized financial liability.

    Rats have it better, as they live in temples, cared, and pampered for, under the belief that they are reincarnation of a loved one.

    During marriage, the “traditional” dowry drains the family of the bride, and when a male son is born is cause for great celebration; in a way she planted the seeds of her own eventual destruction.

    It is almost incomprehensible to understand how a powerful instinctual emotion, one that is both shared by humans and animals alike, can be numbed, and rationalized through religious dogma.

    The notion that is not for religious reasons, but because of tradition, begs the question, and flies in the face of intelligence.

    “They cannot remarry. They must not wear jewelry. They are forced to shave their heads and typically wear white. Even their shadows are considered bad luck.” “Hindus have long believed that death in Vrindavan will .”

    I am surprised they did not choose Anartica to free them from the cycle of life and death.

    Yes, I can clearly see that no religious overtones are involved in this sadistic ritual.

    In is pure form, all children’s that are supported by parents until they become financially independent are a “financial burden.”

    Here's my take in a solution to balance this tradition in India, since it’s not religious, but financially motivated:

    When a child becomes financially independent they are presented with an itemized invoice that reflects expense incurred by their parents on their behalf.

    The list would include: Food, clothing, shelter, private schools, tutors, piano lessons, hobbies expenses, percentage of vacation cost, any travel or gifts received, dental, medical expenses, college tuition, and post graduate university expenses, if any.

    The invoice is recorded with in the Indian Courts as a valid debt. Should the debtor fail to make payments, a judgment is entered and attached to any income, wages, personal, and real property.

    This will provide a steady stream of cash that can be invested, and provide the financial cushion when they become widows, and avoid this ritual.

    Karma states: “if we sow goodness, we will reap goodness; if we sow evil, we will reap evil.” What goodness can come from this tradition?

    We share a similar concept in the western culture: “All souls that serve things evil, are forever enslaved”

  13. Anonymous |

    Anon (who posted the above drivel):
    It's obvious you have not read a word of the discussion in the comments section that came before you decided to play the troll here. If you have nothing substantial to contribute, please do not.

  14. Anonymous |

    Ladies and Gentlemen,
    We need to understand where CNN comes from.
    CNN spent more time covering Anna Nicole Smith. As one person noted:
    "CNN, in its coverage of the former, went for 90 MINUTES without a commercial.
    “[This makes] the death of Anna Nicole Smith a MORE significant news event than a State of the Union address [delivered by President George W. Bush], and slightly less than 9/11.” ( – Jon Stewart, The Daily Show.)
    Don't worry. CNN will go back to covering Paris Hilton soon enough.
    More than 600,000 Iraqis are dead. CNN does not even a mention of them.
    Our expectations from CNN are too high. This is a 'for-profit' entertainment channel - NOT a news channel.

  15. Anonymous |

    One person named Jessica was more rational.
    However Jessica, India is not a land of inhuman practices. Most people in this land, especially Hindus, would rather starve to death rather than kill an animal and eat its meat!

    Many Americans (esp. those from CNN) would no doubt call this stupid. At least, some Indians may like to point out that India was wise enough not to get involved in Iraq.

  16. Unknown |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. Sherri Sanders |

    Jessica, You have a right to your opinions and a right to have empathy for anothers plight. People who actually 'read' your blog consistently know you as an individual and understand your true intent to this post.

  18. Anonymous |

    This article tells more about the CNN viewers and readership.
    This readership needs an event or a news item to FEEL GOOD about itself.
    Finally, people have been found who are even more miserable than us. By God, they are Hindus and Indians - guys who talk funny and insist on being vegetarians. Who better to pick on?

    Now, if only we could get our hands on that thug Osama.

  19. Anonymous |

    Hi Jessica!

    Seems like you have a full house here!

    I did not want to comment on the article, I was just here to say "hi". so "Hi" and have a great weekend.


  20. Valerie |

    Wow! I knew that Americans were hated, but now I am being condemned for something I didn't even know was written, until just now! And even though I am still fighting hard to get us out of Iraq, by supporting those that don't want us there, I am lumped into the "money-grubbing, me-me-me american" steroetype, that is just as bad as getting facts wrong in a story.

    There is poor journalism everywhere in the world, but at least someone had the guts to write about it and bring it to our attention.

    At least now I know it exists, knowledge is power!

    Thank you to those here sharing your knowledge, without name-calling.


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