In India, many widows are considered to be unlucky or unworthy. There’s a variety of demoralizing customs associated with widowhood.
She may be stripped of colorful clothing and allowed to only wear white. Her hair is shaved and she is told to give up all adornment such as jewelry or makeup. She is expected to give up spicy food and sweets. She may be abandoned and shunned by her family because it is believed it was the woman’s “bad karma” that caused the death of her husband. As a widow she is an unwanted, added financial burden.
Because of this poor treatment, many widows are abandoned in the ancient holy cities of Vrindavan where they are told that Lord Krishna will take care of them. Since there are so many widows in Vrindavan, it has come to be known as the “City of Widows”. Once there, the unfortunate widows are often exploited by the town, which profits off the various activities revolving around it being a place of pilgrimage. Each day thousands of people come to worship in the over 4,000 temples in the city. Widows can survive by chanting in the ashrams 4 hours in the morning and 4 hours in the evening. They literally “sing for their supper”.
The widows' lives revolve around chanting all day, seeking shelter, and waiting to die, praying that their next life will be better. No joy, no color, like white rainbows. But, if you look at it in reverse all the colors of the rainbow actually come from white light as it passes through a prism. That is why White Rainbow – we want to shift their perspective, from despair to joy, because we believe that they are not unlucky or unworthy, but that they should be loved and cherished.
India is a land of vast natural beauty and ancient tradition. Modern India is a nation where a highly-skilled and highly-technical minority coexists with a larger provincial population that is steeped in superstition and even religious dogma. This backdrop provides the basis for recognizing the plight of India’s most marginalized citizens – the more than 40 million widows with lives that offer virtually no hope. They have been ostracized by society, abandoned by their families, economically deprived and reduced to non-entities by tradition. Ancient custom dictates that widows are unlucky. There are a number of taboos that serve to demoralize these unfortunate victims of circumstance. A widow is not allowed to appear at occasions such as weddings or births. She is stripped of her jewelry and forbidden to wear colored clothes or flowers. She is denied every form of dignity that she knew as a wife and mother. In every aspect of her life, her negative status is reinforced.
In the city of Vrindavan, widows can face a life that is so abysmal and cruel that it is difficult to imagine in the modern world. Vrindavan has thousands of temples dedicated to Lord Krishna. For generations, widows have made a pilgrimage to Vrindavan. Once there, most of these women are forced to beg for scraps of food on the streets. Many are robbed of their pensions, sexually exploited and physically brutalized.
The White Rainbow Project, alongside many Indian NGOs and caring individuals, are working to change the future of widowhood in India.