It is the pious responsibility of everyone to take care of widows: Vice President

Union Minister for Electronics & Information Technology and Law & Justice, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad and other dignitaries were present on the occasion

The Vice President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu has said that it is the pious responsibility of everyone to take care of widows. Addressing the gathering on the occasion of International Widows’ Day, here today, he said that ‘we as a society need to reflect on the social attitudes towards widows and how the stigma, humiliation and isolation attached to widowhood can be overcome’.

The Union Minister for Electronics & Information Technology and Law & Justice, Shri Ravi Shankar Prasad and other dignitaries were present on the occasion.

The Vice President said that it is a matter of concern that widows are looked down upon and at times meted out unjust treatment even in the present digital era. A powerful social movement is required to change the mindset of people towards widows, he added.

The Vice President said that indigent widows need to be empowered financially by providing loans to be self-employed. Preference should be given to widows while extending Mudra loans, he added.

The Vice President stressed on the need to create livelihood opportunities through vocational training programmes in various areas, including tailoring, garment making and packaging for widows. He further said that States like Haryana and Rajasthan are giving preference to widows seeking government jobs through competitive examinations. This should be emulated by other States too, he added.

Highlighting the need to empower widows, the Vice President said that providing livelihood skills and education for their children is at most important. He further said that under the social welfare schemes like housing and land distribution, entitlements need to be given in the name of women and preference should be meted to widows. Such measures will help in empowering them, he added.

The Vice President said that the concept of New India encompasses economically emancipated women and if that vision is realized, many of the social ills like atrocities on women and neglect of widows can become a thing of the past.

Following is the text of Vice President’s address:

“At the outset, let me compliment Loomba Foundation for working exclusively for the uplift of widows and their children. As there are several million widows worldwide, there is a need not only for more such charitable organizations, but also increased focus on their welfare by the governments.

Widowhood is probably the most tragic phase in a person’s life—be it of men or women. Unfortunately, it causes greater distress among women for a variety of reasons, depending on the socio-cultural mores and norms of the country they hail from. In India too, widows are a highly marginalized and neglected section and face discrimination and exploitation. In thousands of cases, widows not only have to fend for themselves, but also take care of their children.

According to 2011 census data, there are about 4.3 crore widows in India, equivalent to the populations of some countries. They need to be treated with special care, compassion and empathy as they not only have lost their most loved ones, but are suddenly faced with economic and emotional distress and have to cope with life-shattering emptiness and void.

It is a matter of concern that widows are looked down upon and at times meted out unjust treatment even in the present digital era.

There have been many progressive reformers in India who tirelessly worked for the welfare and emancipation of widows. For instance, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar pioneered widows’ remarriage. The others in this league include Raja Ram Mohan Roy and well-known Telugu social reformer, Kandukuri Veeresalingam, who had also promoted widows remarriage and had also established Widows Home. They had made herculean efforts to overcome prejudices of a conservative society at that time.

The most pressing need in the present times is to provide livelihood skills for women and education for their children. I am aware that the Central Government and various State Governments have taken various initiatives to empower widows by providing pensions, shelter and launching skill development programmes. I am happy that the Central Government is providing monthly pension to widows under a national scheme.

Under the social welfare schemes like housing and land distribution, entitlements need to be given in the name of women and preference should be meted to widows. Such measures will help in empowering them.

Some of the major problems faced by widows include societal restrictions on widow remarriages and denial of inheritance rights, among others.

According to 2011 census data, 58 per cent of widows are above 60 years, 32 per cent between 40 and 59 years, nine per cent are in the age group of 20-39 years and a negligible group is under 19 years.

Since nearly one-third of the widows are in the 40-59 years age group, the Government should promote skill development and create livelihood opportunities through vocational training programmes in various areas, including tailoring, garment making and packaging. Indigent widows need to be empowered financially by providing loans to be self-employed. Preference should be given to widows while extending Mudra loans. I am happy that some States like Haryana and Rajasthan are giving preference to widows seeking government jobs through competitive examinations. This should be emulated by other States too.

As mentioned earlier, there is a need for greater participation of NGOs and the private sector in the noble cause of empowering widows. The private sector should earmark some of the CSR funds exclusively for the welfare of widows.

Another important aspect that needs special focus is to provide education to the children of widows. Here too, the government, civil society and the private sector should join hands to give preferential treatment to such children.

Sisters and Brothers,

I am glad that Loomba Foundation has taken up a good number of initiatives to ameliorate the economic situation of widows. In fact, we as a society, need to reflect on the social attitudes towards widows and how the stigma, humiliation and isolation attached to widowhood can be overcome. It is inter-twined with the gender discrimination, which runs as an unfortunate undercurrent in contemporary Indian society.

Girls and women need to be provided equal and equitable access to good education and livelihood opportunities. Our concept of New India encompasses economically emancipated women. If that vision is realized, many of the social ills like atrocities on women and neglect of widows can become a thing of the past.

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