There is a place in India called the "City of Widows". It might as well be called the
"City of the Dead" because if you were unlucky enough to have been born into this society with female body parts and your husband dies, you basically die too.
No matter your age (some girls are married at the tender age of 9 to men much older than they), any female who loses her husband is considered "unlucky" and therefore must be cast as far away from the family as possible. Some women are dropped off in encampments like Vrindavan. Most are simply deposited on their own doorstep and beaten or starved if they do not leave. You are stripped of all of your belongings, even your hair...as if the sorrow from losing your husband wasn't painful enough. You now must grapple with the knowledge that you will most likely never see anyone you love ever again. After months, the initial shock from being shaved bald and scraping by each day while you beg for food on your knees in the streets will begin to take its toll on your body and your spirit. After years, you will be unrecognizable as the hardship of malnourishment and hopelessness bends and twists you into a completely different person. You were cast away because in Hindu (and Muslim) society, even your very shadow is considered sullied.
But hey, it's better than the alternative of self-immolation (Sati), whereupon a widow is expected to throw herself onto her husband's dead body while she burns alive with his corpse. Or is it? As frightening and painful as that fate is, I would almost prefer to die in the flames than be sentenced to years or even decades of extreme poverty and the knowledge that no one loved me.
I have been to Vrindavan. I have sat with the women there, felt their swaths of white sari's (worn to symbolize the color of mourning), and although they speak not a word of English, nor I a lick of Hindi, their eyes tell me everything I need to know. To me, they are not "untouchable". I hugged them, held their hands, and despite all that, the superstition of their "bad luck" transferring to me has never come true. They have endured shameful dehumanization, yet they are still kind, and their souls still hope. Well, not all of them. Many pray for death to come swiftly...and yet it never seems to as many of the widows I met were well into their 70's and 80's. This was the most incredible example of how difficult it is to kill the human spirit I have ever witnessed.
I am impatient for change, especially in situations where the suffering is so unnecessary and so easy to stop. There is an awareness growing in India to eliminate this barbaric tradition, but it is still widely practiced throughout the country as a whole (as is Sati in some regions). Human beings should not be discardable and I for one, intend to help put a stop to this situation. Time to head back to India!