Freedom for India - Freedom for widows

I would like to congratulate all supporters of the Loomba Foundation and everyone reading this blog, on India’s 70th year of independence. This year has been an incredible year for Indo-UK relationship, with the Indo-UK Year of Culture, bringing the countries closer together and making their relationship stronger.

This day would not have been possible, but for one man – a supreme leader of India’s freedom movement, and India’s greatest philanthropist, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Popularly known to Indians as Bapu, the father of the Indian nation, Gandhi was a great supporter of women emancipation, education and empowerment. He believed in the equality of women, and propagated education and skilled-based training to allow them to gain their own freedom, while contributing towards their family, and nation-building. “Of all the evils for which man has made himself responsible, none is so degrading, so shocking or so brutal as his abuse of the better half of humanity; the female sex,” quoted Gandhi.

He recognised the evils attached to the practices of child-marriage and widowhood in India, and vehemently opposed the cruel practices and ostracisation of widows in the name of religion and age-old cultural practices.

“In the name of religion, we force widowhood upon our three lakh girl-widows who could not understand the importance of the marriage ceremony... If we would be pure, if we would save Hinduism, we must rid ourselves of this poison of enforced widowhood,” said Gandhi.

He realised the importance of skilled-based training to support impoverished widows, and had schemes to teach them to make yarn and weave the India cotton garment khadi. “Khaddar (khadi) brings a ray of hope to the widow’s broken-up home, the Charkha (spinning wheel) in the hands of a poor widow brings a paltry price to her,” Gandhi had said.

Khadi became the symbol of freedom – freedom from ills imposed on widows by decades of religious and cultural conditioning, freedom from dependence on relatives and begging and the economic freedom needed to lead a live of dignity.

His vision is similar to the work we, at the Loomba Foundation do. We have put in twenty successful years of fighting injustice against widows around the world. A Widows World Report, commissioned by the Loomba Foundation, has revealed that 258 million widows and over 584 million children suffer in silence worldwide. Over 100 million widows live in poverty struggling to survive. HIV/AIDS, ethnic cleansing, armed conflict and poverty are among the most prolific causes of widowhood.

Through our skilled-based programmes in India, we have been able to train impoverished widows in tailoring, and given them foot-operated machines on completion of the training programme in Delhi, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Haryana, where we have supported widows and female inmates in all 19 district jails in the state.

We also support the education of their children through five-year-long Loomba scholarships. The Loomba Foundation is honoured and privileged to be supported by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, who launched our Varanasi project last year to empower 5000 impoverished widows. Union Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development Hon’ble Shrimati Menaka Gandhi is also building an ashram that would house around 1000 widows in Vrindavan, Uttar Pradesh in India. But this is only the tip of the iceberg, and we need to be prepared for several such initiatives to give widows the freedom that they have been waiting for.