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Scripting a new chapter in Goa’s history

June 05, 2022 | 06:37 IST

Scripting a new chapter in Goa’s history

Taking inspiration from the village of Herwad in the Kolhapur district of Maharashtra, the gram panchayats of Dhargalim and Corgao in the Pernem taluka of Goa have unanimously passed resolutions to end all widowhood customs in their villages. ASMITA POLJI visits these villages to find out the impact on the ground of this decision and the way forward.

Modernity does not only reflect the clothes worn or the gadgets owned. It is also indicated from the thought process of an individual or society as a whole. By deciding to ban the age-old regressive rituals of widowhood, the villagers of Dhargalim and Corgao have certainly presented a modern vision.

Not just this. The resolution passed by the two village panchayats will in effect free women from the restrictions of widowhood, giving women a sense of true empowerment.

While we celebrate the empowerment of women and take pride in the fact that women are surpassing men in all spheres of life, there are still certain sections of society, especially in the villages in the hinterland of Goa, who still impose restrictions under the guise of traditional customs on a woman after she is widowed. She is expected to live in the shadow of these rituals, where she is not allowed to speak for herself, attend any social gathering. The presence of a widow in a marriage is still considered a bad omen.

Likewise, several other restrictions and customs are imposed on a widow, including the prohibition of wearing colorful clothes, wearing bindi, bangles, not celebrating festivals like Holi with colors like red, pink which would be signs of a married woman. She should wear colorless or light-colored clothes. She cannot participate freely and take advantage of all social fiction and all opportunities.

Most disheartening of all the rituals is the sight that widows are forced to break their bangles, wipe the vermilion from their foreheads, remove the mangalsutra, and follow a sedated life until she lives.

The two panchayats of Goa now aim to put an end to these archaic rituals to start a new chapter in the history of the state. This will give women some confidence to live their lives with dignity and move independently for work or business to ensure financial sustainability. Many lose their husbands at a very young age. Many women are widowed in their twenties. It becomes essential for them to become financially independent. To this end, they must take a job or start their own business to survive.

The inspiration for this of course came from Herwad gram panchayat at Shirol taluka of Kolhapur district in Maharashtra, who passed a similar resolution banning practices associated with widowhood.

The resolution adopted unanimously by the Herwad gram panchayat stated: “From now on, in our village, no woman would have to undergo the painful rite of widowhood. In case her husband dies, the wife is forced to remove her mangalsutra, break her bangles and remove the sindoor from her head. This process is painful for her, and a widow is also not allowed to participate in any religious or social program. This cruel and redundant process is hereby banned from our village.

After the resolution passed unanimously by Herwad gram panchayat in Kolhapur, a group of people from Pernem taluka, including the head of a forum named Navchetan Pernem, non-commissioned officer of Pernem fire station and others, including two journalists, visited the village of Herwad and congratulated the Herwad village. Back home, they made Pernem taluka aware of this revolutionary resolution.

Swati Santosh Gawandi, former sarpanch and current panch member of Corgao panchayat, who proposed the resolution to the Corgao gram sabha, said, “I read this resolution passed by Herwad village in newspapers and social media. My brother-in-law was also one of the members of the group that went to Herwad village to congratulate the panchayat for passing the resolution. After that, a thought came to my mind that our women too should be freed from the clutches of these rituals.

She said that women are forced to suffer all their lives because of these practices. However, if the village of Herwad could take action to arrest him in his village, it could be done here too.

“Then I discussed the issue with the ladies in my village and told them that I thought I would come up with such a resolution in our gram sabha village. They expressed their support and told me to go ahead said Swati Gawandi.

Gawandi said that when the proposal was read in the gram sabha, some people raised objections. But the female members, who were present for the gram sabha, remained resolute and pushed through the resolution.

Gawandi added, “Women should be respected and given the right to live their lives even after losing their husbands. When a woman loses her husband, her bracelets are broken, the vermilion is wiped, her mangalsutra and the rings of her hands and feet are removed. The lady, already shaken by the grief of having lost her husband, suffers even more from these acts. This must stop.

All these customs are aimed at subjugating women. These customs have been present for centuries. The most barbaric of all rituals was the Sati system where the widowed woman, voluntarily or by force, immolated herself at the stake of her late husband. The woman who immolates herself is therefore called a Sati who is also interpreted as a “chaste woman” or a “good and devoted wife”.

“This ritual has been stopped which was a huge step forward for society in British times. If it could be done then we can easily stop existing rituals. It just needs a change in the process of thought. I call on people, especially women, to raise awareness about this and ensure that such things are not followed,” she said.

“The main motive behind these resolutions was to give women the right to live, move and work in a safe environment, especially for women who are widowed at a young age. If we work to implement this resolution, it will give them the courage and confidence to move forward in their lives and take care of themselves without depending on their parents or their laws,” said Vinita Mandrekar, a villager. from Corgao.

“When a woman is widowed at a young age, some people in society look at her in a bad way. She cannot take her job as she wishes, she cannot stay out late at night. But if the same woman wears mangalsutra, so she is looked at in a different way. This mentality needs to change for the advancement of women,” said another villager.

“After a woman loses her husband, no matter what age group she belongs to, she is still forced to lead a life of isolation, where even her own parents often avoid her at social or religious functions. . It makes widows feel guilty through no fault of their own and feel unwanted,” said Sarpanch, of Corgao village panchayat Uma Salgaonkar.

“When we learned that a village in Kolhapur had passed a resolution banning the customs that are followed when a woman loses her husband, we visited the panchayat and congratulated the panchayat for taking such an initiative. We then came in Goa and created an awareness that resulted in the two panchayats passing a resolution that they would give respect and rights to women in society by outlawing the customs of widowhood. a revolutionary step both panchayats have taken towards widowhood because widows are treated differently in society after the death of the husband while he was living a life of tears,” said Corgao resident Mahadev Gawandi.

Navchetan President Yuvak Sangh Krushna Palyekar, who also visited Herwad village, said: “It is good to see the initiative that the panchayats in Goa, especially in Pernem, have taken in going against the widowhood customs. We should not fall prey to these customs and understand that a woman can come out and stand if we encourage her by carrying out such resolutions. Every panchayat in Goa should adopt this resolution and raise awareness about it. I also ask Pernem MLA to push this resolution forward and convince all legislators to make it a statewide law,” Palyekar said.

Bharat Bagkar, a teacher and villager from Dhargalim who proposed the resolution to gram sabha, said: “This resolution was passed to bring justice to women who are bound by restrictions. For several decades, these restrictions have been imposed in the name of customs after they lost their husbands. I commend the two panchayats for adopting the resolutions unanimously. We have witnessed the injustice that happens with women when she becomes a widow and the force with which the vermilion is wiped, the bracelets are broken. When we see this, as humans, we feel this is wrong.”

He said people had been blindly following these customs for decades. But now is the time to put an end to these dubious practices.

“When a woman loses her husband, she is already sad. We have no right to aggravate her grief by imposing such inhuman customs on her and tying her to societal restrictions. She too has a life. She has a long journey ahead of her, strewn with pitfalls and loneliness. We should strive to make his life easier, not harder,” Bagkar said.

Each drop makes an ocean, they say. The drops of revolution have begun to flow. The day is not far off when these drops will form an ocean of change.