International Widows’ Day spotlights cultural outcasts

By June 21, 2013

India (MNN) — To be a widow in India often is to be a social pariah.

You can see them begging in the streets or trekking to the “city of widows.” The widows are noticeable, shrouded in white or grey–the color of death.

The City of Widows is another name for Vrindavan in north India. It is home to 6,000 widows who literally have nowhere else to go. Most of them traveled over 1,000 miles from West Bengal to get there.

It is a pilgrimage without fanfare. Some onlookers turn their faces, since even glancing at a widow is considered gravely bad luck by some.

This Sunday, June 23, is the third annual International Widows’ Day. It was first recognized by the United Nations in 2010 to raise awareness for the injustices against widows.

Out of the world’s 115 million widows, one-third of them live in India. 81 million widows worldwide have suffered abuses like rape, torture, or murder because of social stigmas.

Why is there such a prejudice against widows, especially in India? Danny Punnose with Gospel for Asia explains, “In a lot of these cases, when the husband dies it is considered to be the wife’s fault. It doesn’t matter how the husband died. It’s her fault; she must have done something bad in her past life. The husband is now paying for his wife’s wrongdoing.”

92% of women over the age of 70 in India are widows. But it’s not just the elderly or even the middle aged who are losing their husbands.

“You have girls who get married at 10 or even younger–child marriages,” Punnose states. “So a kid who’s 10 years old gets married, and maybe after five years her husband dies. And now the rest of her life from the time she’s 15 or 16 she has to live as a widow.”

Punnose says when a woman becomes a widow, she has to fend for herself, often through undesirable means. “It’s heartbreaking to see that a lot of these girls have no option except to go into begging or prostitution just to survive on the streets.”

GFA reaches out to this outcast demographic in India with the compassion of the Gospel. “In James it says the true religion God looks for is the care of orphans and widows,” says Punnose. “We’re focusing on these widows and helping them…learn a trade. We’re helping by giving them a sewing machine. Some of the others, we’re giving them animals like pigs or goats [to help them] start a small farm.”

Punnose goes on to share, “We have a lot of women who are working among these ladies in the leprosy colonies or on the streets. They go and clean their homes, or give them special meals to take care of them. If they’re in the leprosy colony, we clean their wounds, take care of them, and teach them how to read and write.”

The Indian Church gets involved, too. “In all the places where churches are planted, the believers themselves take care of these widows and orphans, just like the Bible says. When society rejects them, the Body of Christ receives them.”

One Indian widow in her 70's lost her husband. Her own children threw her into the street. She was barely scraping by when some local Christians found her. They built her a home, and now every day some ladies stop by to check on this widow and love her. Punnose shares what the widow said: “My own children rejected me. But you, you younger sisters, you are like my own children now. You have received me. You have taken me in when everyone else rejected me.”

It's the radical message of the Gospel, and it's transforming lives, Punnose says. “When you don’t experience love for years, and all of a sudden someone shows you kindness, it melts your heart. So we see so many lives changed not just because physically we’re helping them with some needs, but they actually get to experience what it really means to be loved by Christ.”

Pray for widows in India and all around the world, especially in light of International Widows’ Day. Pray for them to feel deeply cherished by God’s people and experience His unconditional love.

Click here to support GFA’s ministry to widows. 100% of donations go straight to the mission field.

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