United we stand
According to Hindu tradition, a widow cannot remarry. She has to hide in the house, remove her jewellery and wear the colour of mourning. She becomes a source of shame for her family, loses the right to participate in religious life and becomes socially isolated.
Many widows are either thrown out by or escape from their in-laws – with whom they usually lived – and head for the big cities, where they often disappear. Some go to the holy Hindu city of Varanasi, while others make their way to Vrindavan, where Lord Krishna, the Hindu god worshipped by many widows, is supposed to have spent his childhood. (Credit: Pascal Mannaerts)
nowhere to hide
Most Hindu conservatives in India believe that a woman whose husband has died should no longer live because she failed to retain his soul. Rejected by their communities and abandoned by their loved ones, thousands of destitute women make their way to Vrindavan, a pilgrimage city about 100km south of Delhi that is home to more than 20,000 widows.
These women have no choice but to live in a vidhwa ashram (ashrams for widows) run by the government, private enterprises and NGOs. Clad in white, they know they will never return home and that this is where they’ll end their days. (Credit: Pascal Mannaerts)