Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh, India is a holy city that, according to legend, is where Krishna spent his youth.This place has become a refuge for thousands of “white widows”.
This post is posted by French photographer Marion Staderoli who recently visited Maitri Ghar, Maitri’s Old Age Home for widows in Vrindavan, India. This has been translated into English. You can see the original post and more pictures, here.
You should know that in India, losing your husband is the worst thing that can happen. The life an Indian woman depends on her husband- that she must see and honor a God.
Thus a woman who finds herself a widow ceases to exist in the eyes of all, as she is blamed for the death of her husband. She would not have managed to retain her soul… Once they would even be forced to set themselves on fire, throwing themselves the pyre with the deceased – this was called the “sati”.
Today the sati is prohibited, but the widows are known to bring bad luck, and no one wants to approach them. Their loving families, which they depended upon, now abuse and mistreat them. They lose the right to own property and live in recluse, dressed in white. Sometimes some manage to return to their families, if they’re younger, or their children. Otherwise they roam in large cities homeless, reciting mantras, and begging.
Many come in their thousands to take refuge in the city of Vrindavan, where they hope to find one sanctuary in one of seven ashram. These ashram allow them shelter, but often in terrible circumstances… They live off of food scraps from neighbors and pray constantly, hoping for salvation.
A law is being prepared to improve their lot… Indeed, many NGOs are working in this direction and provide daily help to improve and “comfort” the lives of these white widows.
And we came to this city to meet with these women.
Indeed, while we hadn’t yet even had the idea to come to India, we came across a shocking documentary.
Its title is quite suggestive: “India, the country that does not like women.” We see abused women beaten, raped, and these famous widows rejected by their families. Horrible things, but splendid images: an atmosphere, a light, a country that is changing anyways, strength, messages of hope and courage.
I decided that I had to go photograph (and thus highlight) these banned women.
After some research on the net, I contacted two NGOs to offer them a photo report. Maitri India immediately responded and were able to establish the terms of our stay.
It is in the main ashram of this NGO we were in for a few days.
Maitri gathers over a hundred widows, offering them shelter in decent conditions, one meal a day, and some supplies. The first ashram has 70 elderly widows. A second is under construction and so far there are 40 widows already living there, and 70 from the outside who come in for meals or seeking help.
These three days passed quickly. We experienced extraordinary moments, had the chance to meet fabulous people and we will not soon forget.
Thank you Maitri for having us like kings!
We could see the battered, broken lives these women had lived. Blank stares, sometimes lost, so full of hope, and above all else a strong desire to be loved and cajoled. These women are endearing! Living in the ashram, they regain some peace and quiet. I feel that they have somehow found a new family here. They support each other and certainly will have the strength to continue, despite their hearts being so heavy, because all this can erase the weight of their destiny. We see them smile still, pray together, and sometimes tease each other. I think they have, for the most optimistic, the true moment of joy in this house. There are even some few who dare to wear colorful saris.
This stay and this ashram have reminded me of my grandmother who is in a nursing home, rather comfortable, where it lacks nothing and she’s always cheerful and ready to party. She would have made friends here!
Here are some pictures I hope are emotionally charged. A black and live series for women who were destined to live lives without colour.
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