The Widows of Varanasi
Pungali Devi is 93 years old. She was married at just 12 year of age and widowed one year later, never having even met her husband. Originally from Nepal, Pungali decided never to remarry and instead came to Varanasi to wait out her life in the hope that she would be granted moksha — salvation from the cycles of rebirth.
Pungali’s story illustrates the difficulties experienced by many Indian widows, who are seen as ‘used goods’ by much of society and are often told that they have been punished for misdeeds in a previous life. It is not uncommon for widows to be thrown off by their families and left to fend for themselves. Many make their way here to Varanasi to live out their days.
Several organisations are working to change cultural attitudes and lessen the discrimination experienced by widows, but in many traditional parts of India these women still face terrible difficulties.
You can learn more about the plight of Indian widows at the NGO Maitri India. The Sulabh International NGO also provides support for Indian widows in Varanasi and Vrindavan.