Inspired by two panchayats, Maharashtra government bars 'inhuman' customs forced upon widows

Panchayats of two villages in Kolhapur, resolved to outlaw customs that widowed women are forced to follow, and social activist Pramod Zingale played an instrumental role in the decision.

Published: 22nd May 2022 11:09 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd May 2022 11:09 AM   |  A+A-

Villagers vow to stop discriminatory practices against widowed women

Villagers vow to stop discriminatory practices against widowed women. (Photo| EPS)

MAHARASHTRA: A small initiative by social activist Pramod Zingale inspired the Maharashtra government to take a big reformist step. Last fortnight, the panchayats of two villages, Mangaon and Herwad in Kolhapur, resolved to outlaw customs that widowed women are forced to follow, and Zingale, who runs an NGO, played an instrumental role in the decision.

The activist narrates the incident that prompted him to take action. When one of his close associates passed away during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zingale was among the few who attended the funeral. "As I stood in a corner, I heard a loud wail of a woman. I saw a group of women breaking her bangles. They forcibly removed her sindur and jewellery as she wept inconsolably," he said.

Her plight moved him so much that he launched a crusade to stop these practices . He met with success when Herwad adopted a resolution banning such customs.

Taking a cue from these panchayats, the state government passed an order asking all panchayats to abandon widowhood-related practices such as removal of vermillion, toe ring and mangalsutra; breaking her bangles; and not allowing her to wear colourful outfits. "All this must stop," said the notification issued by Rural Development Minister Hasan M Mushrif.

Expressing happiness at the decision, Zingale said that his effort had paid off. Disturbed by the traumatic experience of his associate's widow, Zingale said he could not sleep for several days. Then he took a resolve.

"I wrote on a Rs 100-stamp paper that after my death, no one will force my wife to follow these practices. She will live like a married woman, if she wants to. Her status in society will not change. If anyone forces her to follow widowhood, then legal actions should be taken against such people," said Zingale.

He wanted to register his declaration at the tehsil office, but no one was ready to counter-sign it. He eventually managed to convince them and posted it on his social media group. He got mixed reactions. But some panchayats welcomed it and told him that they will pass it as a resolution in their general body meeting.   

Varsha Gaikwad, the state's school education minister, said that the two villages had set a good precedent by taking such a step. "This is the land of reformer King Shahu Maharaj who always worked for the oppressed classes’ reform and progress," she said.

Pallavi Kolekar, Gram Sevak of Herwad, said village residents no longer considered widows 'inauspicious'. A farmer recently got a widow to inaugurate his foodgrain storage place, which was a big step as widowed women are not invited to any social, cultural or religious functions.

The government's order will hopefully now allow widows to live a dignified life, especially in rural areas.


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