Opposition leader Yuri Alemao moves private member’s Bill against widow ill-treatment.
The Goa government has agreed to take a major step towards protecting the rights of widows and preventing discrimination against them. Vishwajit Rane, the Women and Child Development Minister, promised this during an Assembly discussion on March 31 after Yuri Alemao, the opposition leader, moved a private member’s Bill for the prevention of “unjust customs of widow discrimination, widow abuse, and widow isolation”. The proposal was supported by all party MLAs.
Speaking on the Bill, Alemao said: “The treatment given to a woman in the wake of her husband’s death and before funeral amounts to the most uncivilised attack on her. Therefore, it is the duty of the State government as well as the Legislative Assembly to stand against such rituals.”
He also said that he had been asked by many persons and groups to not raise the issue as it was largely connected with a religion he was not born into. He said: “It is true that I am a born Christian, but it is also true that I am not a Christian MLA. The members of this House need to take the stand for the women who are facing abuses. This is not about religious reforms, but the matter needs to be seen in the line of democratic rights of women.”
Viresh Borkar of the Revolutionary Goan Party (RGP) said, “The women of Goa are protected by the uniform civil code. Women have equal rights on property and are also respected. They should not be treated differently after the death of their husbands.”
Dr Chandrakant Shetye, an independent MLA, said, “This should not be seen through the lens of religion. All religions have some kind of abusive rituals for the widow. That’s why there should be a law to prevent this abuse.”
Interestingly, MLAs of the ruling BJP also supported the demand for such a law. Deviya Rane, BJP MLA and Vishwajit’s wife, said, “If these customs are not for the men, then they shouldn’t be for women.” She said that the widows go through terrible experiences of isolation and discrimination.
After getting a sense of the House, Vishwajit Rane accepted the demand for the law. He said: “I make a commitment that in the next Assembly session, maybe in July, we can bring in legislation within the purview of the law to prevent any kind of widow discrimination.”
Gram sabha resolutions
The discussion arose after 14 gram panchayats in Goa took a step against widow discrimination. They passed a resolution in the gram sabha against any kind of widow isolation or forcing any disrespectful rituals on widow.
These gram panchayats were inspired by a people’s movement that started in Maharashtra. The Herwad gram panchayat in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district had passed a resolution against rituals that ill-treat widows, after a total of 12 women who lost their husbands to COVID-19 were facing isolation in the village. The gram sabha passed a resolution on May 9, 2022, that no widow in the village would have to face such issues henceforth.
Later, this movement spread across Maharashtra. Many villages started passing similar resolutions. On May 18, 2022, the then Maharashtra government under Uddhav Thackeray took cognizance of the movement and issued a circular for the gram panchayats. A rural development department asked gram panchayats to ban practices such as wiping a widow’s sindoor, breaking her bangles, and removing the mangalsutra and toe rings. The step was welcomed by social activists as well as feminists.
But Maharashtra, which inspired villages of Goa to take such a progressive step, took a step backwards recently when Mangal Prabhat Lodha, BJP leader and Minister for Women and Child Development, wrote a letter to the Principal Secretary of his department suggesting the use of Ganga Bhagirati before the names of widows. The term Ganga Bhagirati has a negative historical connotation. In the past, a Hindu widow’s relatives would take her to the nearest sacred spot on a river bank to get her head shaven. Later, she would be forced to wear sarees of a particular colour (mostly maroon) for her entire life.
Lodha’s suggestion was strongly condemned by women as social activists across the board. Kiran Moghe, leader of All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), termed the proposal as a communal agenda and said: “Will the women from other religions accept this proposal? Is the State government suggesting that women have no identity beyond her husband?”