City of Closures


Thousands of widows in Vrindavan lead a life of deprivation. Often forced out of their homes, the women here are at the mercy of a few shelter homes, private charitable institutions, and some government schemes that are nothing more than tokenism.

The puddle on that January morning was cold. The skin on her leg was torn and blood oozed slowly. Her wrinkled, baton-shaped arms failed her when she tried to get up. She called for help. There were 50 widows within 50 metres: all busy, caught in a frenzy to fill water from a borewell in worn-out disposable bottles abusing, pushing, falling, and kicking each other. Five years ago, 65-year-old Chandralekha came to Mahila Ashray Sadan in Chaitanya Vihar, Vrindavan, a house for destitute, widowed women. Drinking water has been scare here since 2005—the region has hard water unfit for drinking; the borewell is the only source of potable water. The guard switches it on for an hour each day.
It marks the beginning of the drill for survival.

The yellow, dilapidated shelter home houses 171 widows—old and young; Bengalis and north Indians is how they have divided themselves. The young ones are accused of being agile, of capturing the borewell; the Bengalis of marginalisng the north Indians and cornering water and other meagre resources.
Not far from the borewell, Aarti, the assistant superintendent is scolding a woman who wants an extra kachauri. The kachauris were a gift from a real estate agent who launched a housing scheme close to this shelter.

The kachauri is also a symbol of fights to come at the borewell: the real estate agent has installed several borewells in his housing project, deepening the water crisis in the area.

Two hours from Delhi, Vrindavan is where the dark age of patriarchy is intact. The town survives on the principle that for a woman there are two ways to exit the cycle of suffering that mortal life entails: through service to her husband or by surrender to god. When mortality claims the former, they’re forced to seek moksha in the latter. There are 21,000 such women out of Vrindavan’s 57,000 residents, women who wait in this town for their end.Sometimes even death extracts a price.

In September 2012, it was reported that the bodies of some inmates who died in this shelter were taken away by sweepers at night, cut into pieces, put into jute bags and disposed of. This too was an act of grace, done after the inmates collected money and paid the sweeper.

“There is no provision to arrange a funeral, what could have been done,” says Anju Gupta, warden, Mahila Ashray Sadan. Following these reports, the Supreme Court issued a directive to the Uttar Pradesh government to introduce provisions to take better care of the widows in Vrindavan. The court also pulled up the National Commission for Women and the Uttar Pradesh State Women’s Commission for “doing nothing” except preparing reports.One such report from the National Commission for Women, published in 2009, copiously quotes from the Srimad Bhagwad Gita, almost accepting it as a guideline, to explain the religious significance of Vrindavan.


“In ancient times, as mentioned in the Srimad Bhagwad Gita and in the writings of the poet Kalidas Vrindavan, located on the banks of the river Yamuna, was a place of green woods and rolling meadows. It was home to Lord Krishna where he is said to have herded his cows, danced with the gopis, fought the evil Kansa and fallen in love with Radha.”

Parvati Devi is 70. Thin with white hair, she wears a pale yellow saree which was once white. She was married at 12 and widowed at 15. She came to Vrindavan 45 years ago from Asansol, West Bengal. She repeats a story that could belong to any widow here: rickshaw-puller father, nine siblings, seven girls and two boys. She was the eldest, married off to a 40-year-old man. The husband died of diarrhoea. She became an outcast overnight. In the prime of her teens, she had yet to come to terms with puberty. “My mother-in-law blamed me. My husband died because of sexual intercourse with me during my periods. It is a sin and his death was God’s punishment.” Parvati says her husband was a “good man” but has only faint memories of how he looked.

“Even a pig’s life is better than a widow’s. If I die here, maybe I will break the life and death cycle.”
According to Bishen Vaishnav, the priest in the Banke Bihari temple, for over 150 years widows have flocked here, either of their own will, or forced by family to get sucked into a trap of two meals and devotion. Surprisingly, there are only six shelters run by the government and NGOs in the entire town, the cumulative capacity of the six being 800. Several schemes have been introduced: Swadhar yojana, Meerabai Sehbhagini yojana, old age pension scheme and widow pension scheme.

Chandrabala, 55, left her brother’s house in 2000 in Bateshwar to live in Vrindavan. Her salt and pepper hair and is tightly knotted in a bun. Short and stout, she is sporting a hand-knitted red cardigan over a maxi gown. She stands out in the sea of white sarees at the shelter.

Situated 70 km from Agra, Bateshwar was the kingdom of Vasudev, the father of Krishna according to Hindu mythology. Bateshwar is also known for its massive cattle (buffaloes, goats, oxen, camels, horses) fair every year in October and November. Her family’s income came from cattle breeding and farming.
“Thousands of international tourists and buyers used to visit the fair due to its proximity to Agra. But due to scanty rainfall and bank loans, my brothers could not afford to maintain the cattle anymore which was followed by a realisation that an unmarried middle-aged sister can also be no more fed. I was asked to leave.”

Illiterate and without any vocational skills, Chandrabala headed for Vrindavan. “I knew there are many like me here. Where else could I have gone?”Chandrabala is among the one per cent of women among the 21,000 who are unmarried, according to the NCW report of 2009. Their plight is the worst becuase there are no government schemes to address the issues of old, dependent single women.
The promise of meals that lured Chandrabala to Vrindavan is often unmet. The government provides rations under the Antyodaya scheme.

Carrying a blue cotton bag on her shoulder, Chandrabala tells me, “The chakki wallah measured this in front me and told me that it is just four kg. We are entitled to four and a half kg of wheat every month.”
Under the Antyodaya Scheme, the Mathura administration has sanctioned a total of 14 kg of rations per woman: 8 kg wheat, 6 kg rice, 800 gm sugar and three litres of kerosene as opposed to 35 kg given to normal cardholders.

The administration took this decision on the basis that these women do not have families. The women cook their food in their rooms but they often run out of kerosene. As in Chandrabala’s case, whatever little is sanctioned is also halved by the middlemen and supervisors of the homes.


Back-of-the-envelope calculations say one kg of wheat flour can be used to make 40 rotis, which means 160 rotis (considering that four kg of the sanctioned wheat goes to middlemen) a month. The women who depend on Antyodaya have to survive on five rotis a day, without any other nutrition. They get no vegetable, protein, fruit or milk.A person needs a minimum of 1,100 kcal per day to survive. When the calorie count falls to 500 kcal, the body enters starvation mode.These women get 70 kcal per roti which adds up to 350 kcal a day, far lower than the controversial norm of 1,800 kcal per person declared by the Planning commission in March last year as the dietary requirement of a person in urban areas.

When I ask Chandrabala about health services, she points out the dispensary from the corner of her eye. The door is locked. I am told that the doctor rarely visits the shelter on Wednesdays, the designated day. Dearth of medical treatment means lives lost to tuberculosis and pneumonia every year.

Seema Chauhan, 55 from Dholpur in Rajasthan, was abandoned by her Rajput family. Upper caste widows like her are under even greater pressure to follow the regressive guidelines of widowhood. “She used to keep requesting everyone to get her married. She had loud conversations with God and tell everyone that she is pregnant because a dog had bitten her,” says warden Anju Gupta.
Geeta, another inhabitant, finding me in a corner, whispers: “She used to beat her and lock her in a room for not wrapping her saree properly.”When I ask Anju later, she says, “How can I hit any of them? I did scold her because it seemed obscene with so many male workers in the ashram”.Three years later a psychiatrist from Kanpur visited the shelter and saw that Seema was sent to a mental home for treatment.

Women are also entitled to a half-yearly pension of `1,800. They haven’t received any in the last four years. Sitting on a jute cot in the sun, opposite the tap, Javitri Tomar, crippled and old is massaging her knee with mustard oil.

Last year, a motorbike bumped into her, and after a month’s delay, her knee was finally operated upon in the R K Mission hospital. Lack of proper follow-up treatment has made her immobile. She informed her relatives in Etah, a small town close to Mathura, but they never turned up.

She says: “The warden wants a cut of `1000 from each instalment of the pension to initiate the process.”
Sita, sitting next to her nudges her with her elbow, signalling her not to divulge any more details. If she does, the pittance coming her way after the warden’s cut will also cease. She is separating the raw rice and the pulse she received this morning from the Bhagwan Bhajanashram.

Bhajanashrams have existed in Vrindavan for centuries. The one in Patharpura was founded to dissuade widows from begging and channel their energies in devotional activities. “This is their maika (mother’s home)”, says Banke Lal Tomar, one of the managers. The bhajanashrams have three shifts of three hours each a day. For singing bhajans for three hours a woman is paid `4, and gets a cup of uncooked dal and rice. The morning shift that begins at 6.30 a.m. sees the maximum attendance because breakfast is served after the bhajan session. The subsequent shifts start at 10.30 a.m, and 2.30 p.m.

It is time for the afternoon shift. The ashram is dimly lit, with patched curtains and a cold breeze sneaking in from all corners. The seepage in the walls contributed to the gloom. An old woman has propped herself against the pillar and dozed off. A group of women in the centre of the hall surrounded Sharda, the dholak mai. Sharda is yawning, while only two were singing aloud the bhajans from a dog-eared book. The others can hardly take out their hands from the shawls to clap in rhythm. A bit of devotion, a cupful of rice and dal, and some alms—for the women in Vrindavan this is as good as it gets.

The pittance that is offered is also an exhibition of the extreme hopelessness that prevails. The bhajanashram supervisor gets `70 a month, the dholak mai gets `15 a month, the token manager `10 per month, the pravachan mai `9 and the one who plays the jhanj gets `5 per month.

There are two bhajanashrams in Vrindavan: the Balaji ashram at Ramanreti and Bhagwan Bhajan Ashram at Patharpura, which has several branches. They are run as private charitable enterpirses, free from government control. In addition, numbers obtained from the Mathura Collectorate suggest that Vrindavan has over 5,000 temples and ashrams. Most of the land in the town is owned by ashram and temple trusts.
“We get donations from all across the country and sometimes from NRIs too,” said Tomar. Over 4,500 women attend bhajanashrams every day, according to Tomar

Bhajanashrams are often touted as the only support for the widows, for the lack of pension. The government has opened ration shops in these ashrams as they are important places to reach the widows. However, what is hard to understand is that these ashrams have existed for centuries and still haven’t devised a model for the widows to be independent. There have been no attempts to provide skills for gainful employment. Some of these ashrams are also owned by corporate houses.

Last year, Sulabh International stepped in to provide medical care. They provided ambulances that are kept on alert round-the-clock. Besides, they gave ashrams certain medical equipment, TV sets and refrigerators. Responding to the court directives, Sulabh initiated measures for them.

“We have started giving `1,000 per month to each widow living in five government-run shelters in Vrindavan,” says Bindeshwar Pathak of Sulabh. Mathura district administration figures show that 2,818 women are enrolled under the old age pension scheme and 892 under the widow pension scheme.
Sunita, 50, has shifted three houses in the last year because she could not afford the rent. “The officials ask for proof of residence to access these schemes. I don’t have any and the tout asks for `500 to make a false one.” The ones who have been enrolled do not have passbooks even when they were officially distributed.
Jayanta, 48, from Etawah says that since most women are illiterate, they seek help from the officials to complete their bank account documentation. “There was an inspection last year by people from Delhi and that’s when we found out that all these years it was the officials who not just had our passbooks but were receiving all the money instead of us,” she said..

Vrindavan is also a place to study the nuances of Corporate Social Responsibility projects which comfortably twine themselves around religious alternatives. One such cocktail is always at work in Vrindavan. There are posters galore of “Didi Maa” Sadhvi Rithambara in this town.

The Sadhvi courted fame for her venomous speeches against Muslims in the early 1990s. Know to have attained nirvana at 16, she started as a member of the Rashtra Sevika Samiti, the women’s wing of RSS and later joined the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and built its women’s wing, Durga Vahini. She is an accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case.

In 2002, the Uttar Pradesh government of Ram Prakash Gupta granted 17 hectares on the outskirts of Mathura, valued at `20 crore, to her trust, Paramshaktipeth for 99 years for an annual fee of `1 for this philanthropic cause.

On this land, Vatsalygram, her idea of utopia, was established in May 2003. A number of international endorsements from Texas, Los Angeles, New Jersey, certificates from the governors and other international associations adorn the reception area.“Didi wanted to combine old age homes, Nari Niketans and orphanages. She wanted to come up with an alternate world for those who have been rejected and provide family support.”

Spread across several acres, Vatsalyagram is a registered NGO with partners like the Adobe Foundation, Surya Electricals, Donear Suitings, Amul Macho among others. The campus has a school, hospital, residential area for occupants, swimming pool, football ground and a guest house.
Vatsalyagram has come up with a model where old women, young women and children are organised in family units, as nani, maa, mausi and the kids. Each family is given a monthly budget to manage their household.

Impressed by Sadhvi Rithambara’s fiery, volatile speeches in 1990s, Sita ran away from home in Delhi to become a sadhvi. Dressed in green salwar kameez and a brown shawl, 40-year-old Sita offers me coffee in the posh waiting area of Vatsalyagram.


“I wanted to dedicate my life to serve society like her but now I have the privilege of being a mother of 13 children. How many get this unique experience?” asks Sita comfortable in the role assigned to her.
When I ask Uma Shankar, a member of the management about the vocational skills that are provided to the women, he says, “Uski kya zaroorat hai? Yahan sabhi parivarik mahilayein hain.” (Why is that required? All of them are domestic women.)The 225 occupants follow all Hindu rituals: from mundan, annaprasan to traditional Hindu weddings. They have been assigned the same gotra, Gurudev, as a mark of respect for Rithambara’s guru, Swami Paramanand.

“We even ensure that the girls are provided all things of domestic importance as dowry. When they visit us every year they are even given bhaat and milni,” says Sita. Bhaat and milni are money and clothes given to a girl when she visits her parents after she gets married.

Instead of abstaining from and questioning the transactional nature of the Hindu wedding and practices like dowry, Vatsalyagram treats it like a norm. “We observe karwa chauth for Didi maa Sadhvi Rithambara because we have dedicated our lives to her,” adds Sita.

In Vrindavan, people say “Radhe-Radhe” instead of honking. According to some legends Radha, Krishna’s beloved was older than him and also married. There is a singular irony about the fact that the women are abandoned in a town whose entire existence is rooted in the radical love of Radha and Krishna, who defied the traditions of their time to a fate worse than death.

“I want Radha rani to grant me moksha,” says Vasudev Dasi. Vasudev, 45, is a child widow from a small town called Lahan in Nepal. Her swollen feet hardly fit into her blue rubber chappals. A big nose pin adorns the small face The Bhajan Kutti ashram, near R. K. mission hospital, mostly houses widows from Nepal.
The problem of child widows is rampant in Nepal. Child widows are known as bekalayas in Nepal and ostracized since they are assumed to create bad karma. Both Vasudev and her sister were married off in the same ceremony. She was 14 and her sister 12. Her husband, who was 20, died in an accident three years later. Eight months pregnant Vasudev had a miscarriage.“They threw me out that very day.”She returned to her parents’ house but they had already started giving in to the social pressures. She had to walk barefoot and wear a cotton sari, her head was shaved.

She smiles as she says, “I didn’t like it one bit. One day, I was tempted to eat fish that my friend had secretly got for me.” The smile suddenly changes into a smirk. “Some neighbours saw it and that was the end of my stay in Nepal. My father got me here, asked me to wait near the Banke Bihari mandir and never returned in the last 28 years. Neither did I try to go back. I knew there was no point.”

Orthodox Hindus believe that onions, garlic, pickles and meat stimulate sexual desires. However, these prohibited food items are also necessary to avoid the malnutrition that leads to death. In India, mortality rates are 85 per cent higher among widows than married women according to a nationwide study conducted by the Guild of Service NGO.

A tour near Panighat, once a popular cremation spot, next to the Yamuna and now full of industrial waste from Mathura refinery and untreated sewage, throws open a world that stays shielded behind the stereotypes of Vrindavan. Manipur House is a multi-coloured building in a narrow alley, built in 1926.

Geeta Debbarma, 40, came to Manipur House from Agartala, Tripura in 2008. She is among the many “married widows” living in Manipur House. Her husband, Ranjeet, a daily wage labourer, was abducted by the banned militant group All Tripura Tigers Force in October, 2000. In abject poverty, she still paid a ransom of 15,000 but did not get to see her husband. In the six years between January 1997 and December 2002, some 1,790 abductions were reported throughout Tripura, according to the National Crime Record Bureau.


Nearly half of them ended in tragedy—196 hostages are confirmed dead and the police are clueless about 450 victims. The Tiger Force and National Liberation Front of Tripura, led by tribal leaders, resent the overwhelming presence of Bengalis and other non-tribal groups in the state.

After the disappearance of her husband, Basanti could neither inherit her husband’s property nor operate his bank account due to a provision of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872. A clause under this law stipulates that the death certificate of a missing person can be issued only after seven years of his/her disappearance.
While Muslims, Christians, SCs and STs have a comparatively higher rate of widow remarriage, a landless Bengali with no source of income to fend for herself and her two children, could find no better place for herself than Vrindavan. As she assembles clothes from the clothes line, she says, “My husband is dead. I know it. Here, I have a shelter over my head. My daughter, 10, works at an ashram and my son, 8, works at a tea stall. One day, we might return.”

A National Commission for Women report suggests that 86 per cent of the women in Vrindavan are from West Bengal. “I hopped from one bus to the other over a week to reach here,” says 75-year-old Basanti Rani Dutta in broken Hindi. Her short, frizzy hair reaches just under her ears.

Basanti is from Bardhaman, West Bengal. Legend has it that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, a saint of the Bhakti movement from Nadia district in West Bengal came to Vrindavan and established many places of worship. Basanti narrates another story. According to her, there were two Bengali brothers who worked as cashiers in a king’s palace. Once a servant mixed salt instead of sugar in their drinking water by mistake. The brothers, too caught up with their work, drank it without noticing.

Later when the servant apologised for his mistake, the brothers were shocked. They thought to themselves that had they dedicated themselves with the same passion in the quest for God, they would have found him. They gave up their lives and came to Vrindavan and started meditating on the ghats of the Yamuna. Their fame drove the king to them and he was so impressed with their devotion that he donated all the land within eye view. Vrindavan, then a jungle was thus established. “Because it was set up by Bengalis, we came here,” says Basanti.

Some 25 per cent of the families in Bardhaman, an important industrial town and Basanti’s home, are below the poverty line, far less than the national average of 56 per cent. Even the literacy rate in the district is 75 per cent. However, religious dogma marked by age-old customs still drive the status of such women.
“One of my sons is a police constable and the other two are street vendors. Once my husband passed, my daughters-in-law did not allow me to even touch my grandchildren. Skanda purana describes a widow as more inauspicious than that all other inauspicious things. I decided to leave the house after a year and came here to live the life of a widow with dignity and respect.”

Official data suggest that 50 per cent of widows in Vrindavan have families at their places of origin. The figures are a reminder of the misogynistic customs that ostracise widows.

The six government-run and NGO shelters in Vrindavan serve a total of 800 women. The other 20,000 are left to fend for themselves. Laxmi Goswami was thrown out of a government shelter four years back after she was declared mad.


She initially refused to narrate what happened. “People come to research us, treat us as objects and go back. Nothing changes.” After a few hours of persuasion, she takes me to Kala Bari, a haveli in Gopinath bazaar, where she lives. The building is over 100 years old and falling apart, with no toilets. There are eight more widows like her who live on a rent of `350 a month.

“One day, the officials started brutally started beating a 25-year-old widow after they discovered a bottle of perfume in her room. They called her immoral. I defended her. She was expelled for bad character and I was declared mad and thrown out a month later.” Laxmi now survives on alms and the four-hour- long kirtans that fetch her `5 per shift to pay her rent.

With no government aid and no income, there are often incidents of surrogacy and sex work. Seema (name changed), 30, is from Supaul district in Bihar. In August 2008, the Kosi floods killed 250 people and forced nearly three million people from their homes in Bihar. “We were eating raw wheat flour and rice. There was polluted water all over and my husband died of stomach infection.”

Seema arrived in Vrindavan with 13 others of her age, all victims of the natural calamity. They did not have adequate papers to be absorbed by a government shelter. They started begging outside the temples and came in touch with a kinnar (transgender) called Chachi who advised them to rent their wombs for surrogacy.

“They were a young English-speaking Indian couple from Ahmedabad, Gujarat. They decided to pay me `45, 000 and bear all the medical costs. Chachi was paid a commission of `20,000 . The girl was delivered in a Mathura hospital last year and since them I have had no contact with them.”
Seema sells tea outside the newly constructed Prem Mandir, a popular tourist site in Vrindavan. She confirms that due to absence of government aid, six of the 13 girls from Bihar followed suit and are now committed street vendors.

According to data with the Mathura district administration 22 per cent of the widows are in the reproductive age, and 30 per cent of the destitute women, some 6,300, have come to Vrindavan in the last five years.
The alley that leads to the Radha Madan Mohan temple has a huge wall painting that announces, “Jab tak Bharat mein go hatya ka kalank nahin mitega, tab tak hum Hindu kehlaane ke adhikari nahin” (until the blot of cow killings is not washed off in India, we are not fit to be called Hindus). It is another reminder of aggressive nationalist sentiment driven by religion that falls flat when looked through the prisms of practices like sevadasis.

Sevadasis are widows who are comparatively young and “presentable.” Rupa (name changed), a sevadasi at the Radha Madan Mohan temple, was left here by her uncle at the age of 17. When I meet her, she is neatly dressed in a sparkling white saree. The hem of her green blouse was repaired by a pink thread. For the last two years, she is being trained in “tastefully” performing the kirtans.


“I perform with two other girls whenever there are potential donors,” says Rupa. Initially hesitant about disclosing the other services expected of her, she finally says in one breath, “Are you asking about sexual services? As a sevadasi, dependent on the ashram for staying alive, we do it, for the priest, for the donors. It is better than selling your body every single day in Gaura nagar (Vrindavan’s red-light area) and contracting AIDS! And then, don’t we have desires,” she sighs when she finishes.

As the nation demanded amendments in the rape laws in December last year, what is not mentioned is the sexual harassment of women in the city who live as dependents. Rape in ashrams by priests is not unheard of but it is not easy to stand up to the ‘providers’ of food and shelter. In such a scenario, registering an official complaint is a distant option.

Mohini Giri, a noted women’s rights activist and a former NCW member, over the years put on track several such cases. She says, “To help widows who have been raped, I would go and beg the judges for their time on Saturdays and Sundays. Every room in a school was changed into a courtroom and we settled 400 cases at once.”

It also highlights the importance of socio-economic independence for women to fight misogyny. Only then will the amendments in laws like rape will be meaningful. However, economic independence is not on anyone’s agenda in Vrindavan.

Ritu, 42, a widow trained in sewing and embroidery, says, “The training is useless beyond a point because there is no capital to buy raw material and then sustain one’s start-up over a period of time.” Agarbatti-making, candle-making, bari-and-papad-making similarly require money for raw material. Dearth of innovative, enterprising methods is a major obstacle.

“Why did they throw me out even when my parents gave them the dowry they wanted? Was it my fault if my husband was a drunkard and fell into a ditch and died?” asks Ajanta. Her rebellion and her uncomfortable question was a breather. Her in-laws, well to do zamindaars, threw her out after taking a thumb print on a paper in 1996. Parents refused to take her back.

“They said go die in Kashi, I came to Vrindavan instead.” Under the Hindu Succession Act (HSA), 1956, the property of a Hindu male dying intestate (without a will) devolves, in the first instance, equally on his sons, daughters, widow and mother (plus specified heirs of predeceased sons or daughters). The HSA allows the widow to inherit equally with sons and daughters.

But it also has a questionable provision, under section 30, whereby the husband, if he wishes, can will away all his property, leaving the widow with no support. In most cases, the husbands die without a will and relatives ostracise the widows, forcing them to flee and nipping all possibilities of them staking claim to the property.

India has the dubious distinction of having the highest widowhood rate in the world. According to the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare, the rate is eight per cent. Indian widows collectively outnumber the Canadian population of 32.4 million, but the tribe suffers the ignominy of its rights being observed more in the breach. Also, they are neither counted in the poverty statistics nor seen as a prospective vote bank so their problems are put on the back burner.

Mamta Sharma, chairperson of the National Commission for Women, when asked about the lack of implementation of Supreme Court guidelines issued last year, says, “We have mentioned in our affidavit to the court following our research that in spite of the flow of the money for these widows, their condition is still pitiable and a lot of improvement needs to be made. Hence, it is necessary that there should be strict auditing of the above finances to see whether they are being used for the improvement of living conditions of these women and there should be some regulation or monitoring mechanism to keep check on it.”
While political leaders like Sushma Swaraj celebrate the misogyny of widowhood by threatening to tonsure their hair and wear white as a form of protest, Vrindavan is full of women who have been forced to follow the same practices for the sin of being “husband eaters.”

As the women get ready in their translucent, white cotton saris and tattered shawls to walk to the bhajanashrams, Chandrabala asks me, “Why did you come to write about this? Everyone knows that’s how we live.”

(The story was published in the Fountain Ink Magazine on April 4, 2013)

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