How can girls under 18 be married and discarded by their families if they turn widows? This was the blistering question the Supreme Court (SC) asked on Friday as it expressed grave concern about the ill-treatment the country metes out to destitute women and widows.
The top court was hearing a public interest litigation (PIL) filed by a non-governmental organization (NGO) asking the court to look into the inhumane conditions of widows turned out of their homes and living in Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh.
The SC has scheduled the next hearing on the matter on November 11.
In May, the court had issued notices to the Centre and the Uttar Pradesh government on a PIL highlighting the plight of the widows who beg at temples and huddling together in hovels in Vrindavan.
The NGO, in its petition, pointed out to the court that the widows, who congregate for around seven to eight hours for bhajans, get only Rs. 18 a day.
It also had told the court that a majority of the 1,000-odd widows interviewed in Vrindavan by the National Commission for Women (NCW) have children who don’t care for them.
In a report to the top court, the statutory women’s body recommended making these children liable under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007.
The NCW said that an estimated 5,000-10,000 widows were living like beggars in ashrams dotting the two holy towns of Mathura and Vrindavan and were being sexually exploited.
The NCW’s second report to the court said that 81 per cent of these women were illiterate.