Inspired by two panchayats, Maharashtra government bans ‘inhumane’ customs imposed on widows

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MAHARASHTRA: A small initiative by social activist Pramod Zingale inspired the government of Maharashtra to take a major reformist step. A fortnight ago, the panchayats of two villages, Mangaon and Herwad in Kolhapur, decided to ban customs that widowed women are forced to follow, and Zingale, who runs an NGO, was instrumental in the decision .

The activist recounts the incident that prompted him to take action. When one of his close aides died during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zingale was among the few to attend the funeral. “As I stood in a corner, I heard the moans of a woman. I saw a group of women break her bracelets. They forcibly took away her sindur and her jewelry as she cried inconsolably “, did he declare.

His fate so moved him that he launched a crusade to put an end to these practices. He met with success when Herwad passed a resolution banning such customs.

Inspired by these panchayats, the state government passed an ordinance requiring all panchayats to abandon widowhood-related practices such as removal of vermilion, toe-ring, and mangalsutra; break his bracelets; and not allowing her to wear colorful outfits. “All this must stop,” said the notification issued by Rural Development Minister Hasan M Mushrif.

Expressing his joy at the decision, Zingale said his efforts paid off. Disturbed by the traumatic experience of his associate’s widow, Zingale said he was unable to sleep for several days. Then he made a resolution.

“I wrote on a 100 rupee paper that after my death no one will force my wife to follow these practices. She will live as a married woman, if she wants to. Her status in society will not change. If anyone force her to follow widowhood, then legal action should be taken against these people,” Zingale said.

He wanted to register his statement at the tehsil office, but no one was willing to countersign it. He finally managed to convince them and posted it on his social media group. He had mixed reactions. But some panchayats welcomed him and told him they would pass it as a resolution at their general assembly.

Varsha Gaikwad, the state’s school education minister, said the two villages had set a good precedent by taking such a step. “It is the land of the reforming king Shahu Maharaj who always worked for the reform and progress of the oppressed classes,” she said.

Pallavi Kolekar, Gram Sevak of Herwad, said villagers no longer regard widows as “inauspicious”. A farmer recently asked a widow to inaugurate his food grain storage place, which was an important step as widowed women are not invited to any social, cultural or religious functions.

Hopefully, the government order will now enable widows to live a dignified life, especially in rural areas.

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