Widows in Nepal

I want to start this post by saying; whatever I am going to write in this post is solely my opinion and understanding and hold no disrespect for any culture or tradition. 

In Nepal, if a Hindu woman loses her husband, she has to wear a white sari for a whole year. She also has to give up all signs of marriage like pote, glass chura and sindoor. 

After one year, she is allowed to wear clothes with colours other than red or shades of red or other bright colours and she still can’t wear pote, glass chura and sindoor. They are also forbidden from remarrying. It is believed if a widow marries another man; her deceased husband’s soul goes to hell. I know it sounds ridiculous but that is what the widows are led to believe. 

In ancient times, there used to be ‘Sati’ practice in which if a married man died, the widow is coerced to join her husband in his funeral pyre. My grandma used to tell me the stories about how she knew people who she lost due to this practice. This was outlawed only around 70 years ago. 

I don’t know why the husband is never made to undergo such cruel customs on the death of his wife. And men can remarry if they want. 

My paternal grandmother was widowed when she was quite young. Her youngest child was only 2 years old at that time. I know she suffered a lot as a widow in a conservative Nepali society. She was not invited for many religious ceremonies and considered an outcast for lots of Pujas. My grandma is a survivor and she managed to ignore all the brutal treatment from the society and brought up all 7 kids all by herself. She made sure that all the kids went to school and were well-educated despite the fact that she was uneducated and alone. All the kids grew up to be successful in their lives and all the credit goes to my grandma. 

I never saw my grandma wearing any bright colour saris even after 50 years of the death of my grandfather nor did she wear any glass chura. She used to have a few golden bangles and that was it. She told me lot of stories where she felt like an outcast from the society after her husband passed away. 

I know an aunt who lost a husband in a freak accident after just 3 years of marriage. At that time she had a year old baby boy and she was only 26 years old. I really thought it was cruel that she couldn’t enjoy her life just because her husband had passed away. Her MIL blamed her for her son’s death and made her life into hell. I am sure she missed her husband terribly and on top of that she had to deal with the cold behaviour from relatives and the society. I strongly believed that she should have been allowed to remarry and live the rest of her life happily but I was just a kid and my opinion would have brought an outburst among my relatives. 

Recently, I read news that the Nepali government are giving RS 50,000 (AUD 600) to the couple if a man married a widow. I find this wrong in so many levels. A widow is a woman and not some broken furniture which you pay the removalist to discard. No one should be given monetary incentive to marry; it should be purely out of love. I also read lots of news later that people were marrying only for the money and it was not helping the problem of widows in Nepal. 

I know there are so many human rights organisations that are fighting for this cause and I salute them but this problem is not going anywhere until we are able to educate people and make them understand that death is a natural process so no woman should suffer her whole life just because her husband died. 

I know things are changing slowly but still the majority of Nepalese people do not accept widows as a normal woman. I want them to think what they will do if the window is their own daughter or sister. I am sure they want them to be treated as equal to any normal woman and allowed to remarry if they wish to and live their life happily.

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11 responses to “Widows in Nepal

  1. I totally agree. I studied about “Sati” when I was younger in school and I thought it was absolutely preposterous to put a women through such pain when the men don’t really do anything of the sort when his wife dies. I’ve also heard that they are not invited to baby showers, weddings and are supposed to not wear jewellery and go bald as well! That’s horrendous. With all due to respect to a person’s traditions and culture (even though I thought this was only in India), its not fair for a women, who would have children, who might be young, to undergo such harsh treatment. And even if men were to do the same, the whole concept is not justifiable. We all get to live once, one life, confining a person into a life of solitary is a crime in my opinion!
    I knew Sati was abolished but I wasn’t aware that this act of confinement was still practised. I hope that all those working against this reaps success soon enough so that widows can get justice. The Nepali government (sorry If i may sound offensive) is objectifying widows. Its like buying a women (be it for any reason) and they even get paid for it! The man can leave the woman anytime and he would have lost nothing. Maybe the government is trying to contribute through monetary funds to compensate for a dowry? If the ex-husband’s family is unwilling to get their ex-daughter-in-law re-married and the widow’s family is unable to afford a dowry twice for the same child, maybe it can be looked upon as the government is trying to fulfil this demand of the new husband’s family? (but then again, I find the dowry system to be a complete hoax as well and the way the government has chosen to advertise this, it seems more like “get a wife for Rs.50,000″ )

    • Dowry system is not as bad in Nepal as in India but I agree with you about objectifying widows. I am not sure who came with these ideas in Nepal but they really should have done their reality check before they made that a law.

  2. INteresting post. The stigma associated with widows really angers me. I knew of some of the processes in place after a husband dies but didn’t know it was that bad

  3. It is such a shame that in 21st century where women are educated and independent, they have to go through this. They should stop this cruel tradition.

  4. Great post. Have you seen the movie Water (Deepa Mehta)? It’s heartbreaking (and highly recommended!). It’s such a shame that the stigma surrounding widowhood is alive today.

    I think in Hindu ideology, women are responsible for the lives and health of their husbands. They are their husband’s shakti. It’s also a logic that informs festivals such as teej. In this way of thinking, when her husband dies, it’s her fault. She used her shakti to kill him rather than keep him alive, hence she is considered ‘bad luck’ and ostracised from society. Sati exemplifies this – by burning herself alive on her husband’s pyre, she is in fact purifying herself of her sin and thus liberating herself. Men don’t hold the power of Devi to the same extent as their wives, therefore when their wives die the husbands aren’t at fault. In fact, when a couple get married the woman (literally – I mean the woman’s very body) is said to assimilate into the gotra of her husband (not the other way around) – his body becomes half of her body and when he dies half of her goes with him…so she only lives ‘half a live’ forever afterwards. It’s pretty awful, that this ideology of feminine power (shakti) is essentially used to radically control and disempower women.

    That’s what I’ve learnt about Hinduism anyway, and it largely fits with what I’ve seen in Nepal. It’s hard to swallow the treatment that is sometimes out to widowed aunts and cousins :(

  5. I haven’t watched the movie but I will find and watch it.

    It is good to know about Hindu ideology. I should read more about them.

    I think it is not practical to blindly follow ideology if that hurts other human being. The worst part of all is even educated modern people thinks; they are doing the right thing by following these ideology.

    I know it is really sad to see our widowed relatives in pain.

  6. I am with the writer’s sentiment on this topic and I fully agree that these acts of discrimination should be abolished completely from the society.

    However, when we talk about women’s right and women’s empowerment and non-discrimination towards women, I see both genders are equally at fault. I have seen some of my female friends who have every bit of freedom about their life, who has the most modern education in the world and who in terms of life experience are no less than any males are clueless about what they want to do in their life. While most of the guys know that they have to watch out for their life themselves and they are prepared for that, a lot of girls know that they have to find a right guy or wait for him to take a lead in their life. Excuse me ladies, if you are not one of them, I have no intention to demean you rather I would praise you. Also, I understand the role of male and female in a family, but this situation i am describing above is very true with a lot of Nepalese (it is especially shocking that it is also very common with people that are abroad). There are a lot of young Nepali wives who has a college degree (some of them have master’s degree or are medical doctors from Nepal) and still have no shame to live off their husband’s income.

    • I agree with you 100% that it is women who are discriminating women. It is really sad but it is true since long time, women have been their worst own enemy. In modern days it is mostly some aunties or in laws who will make a windowed woman’s life hell than any man will.

      I have seen some Nepali women who want to live off their husbands’ income but I believe there are more and more women who are independent and share equal responsibilities as a couple than before. I believe one of the major reason that affect how the girl grows up to be, depends on how her family has brought her up .If she has a family support, you will find that girl has grown up to be career orientated, strong independent woman . In most family, they make girls feel that their major responsibilities are in kitchen and looking after house when they grow up while boys are told they have to look after the family and be a bread winner. So I guess it is more of society and family’s influence that makes how young girls think about themselves.

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  8. I read your other post M and from there I click the link for this post, I never knew that the widow would have to die with her husband it feels very wrong for me. I’m glad they don’t practice that anymore. Your blog has helped me understand so many things. Thank you :)

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