‘Widows of Vidarbha’: Horrific Yet Courageous Tales of Farm Widows
Video Editor: Rahul Sanpui
Usha, who is not sure of her age, was widowed when she was pregnant for the fourth time about a decade ago. With three daughters, her husband Dhanraj always craved for a son, but the farm wasn’t producing well. The financial and emotional crisis led him to take his own life by hanging himself from a lemon tree in the village.
Usha lives with her four children and parents in Kanheri village in Maharashtra's Akola district.
Dhanraj ended his life, but Usha’s woes had multiplied.
“There were a lot of people in the house after my husband hanged himself. My father-in-law kicked me in front of everyone. Then, he beat me for two days after my husband died. But I endured it all for my three daughters. They blamed me for my husband's death,” said Usha.
“At my husband's funeral, my father-in-law told my father to get me into prostitution. Did it suit him to say this? He has two daughters of his own,” she says.
“People told me that I have to live there for 10 days after his death for the rituals. I did. They put me in a small room that had one bed. I slept on it with my three daughters. I was pregnant at that time. For those 10 days, I ate whatever people offered me and I survived on that,” she said.
Chaya Nitin Fale recounts a similar story.
“I was at my father’s place when it happened. When I came back, my in-laws blamed me for his (husband’s) death and asked me to leave the house,” says Chaya.
Chaya’s husband had three acres of land in Akola's Masa village, that she now cultivates on her own. He hanged himself in his own farm.
“Now I try to cultivate the land myself with some help. Some year, there is produce, another year, there isn’t,” she said.
Chaya now lives separately with her son in the same village, but her in-laws haven’t stopped creating troubles for her.
“If I hire anybody for work, my in-laws try to drive them away. They say, ‘Why are you working for her?' I have to persuade people to help me,” she said.
“Once they tried to destroy my farm. When I confronted them, my elder sister-in-law attacked me. She said how could I even raise this issue and ask questions,” Chaya recalled.
Radha Shrikrishna Tayade was widowed six years into her marriage. She has two children. While her in-laws were supportive, the villagers weren’t.
“After my husband died, we found some receipts of pending payments for bricks, cement, etc in his pockets. He went to the cowshed to consume poison, and returned home later. The doctor said his intestines had been completely destroyed,” she said.
“After his death, I lived in the village for three years. But the other children used to harass my child. They used to force feed tobacco to him and they even threatened him that if he told anyone at home, they will thrash him. Once, in school, they made him drink alcohol. The school called me and asked me to rush there,” says a teary-eyed Radha.
“We then decided to move out of the village with the help of our relatives,” she said.
Radha has now moved closer to Akola city with her two children, father-in-law and mother.
Struggling to Make Ends Meet, They Haven’t Lost Hope
Radha now breaks betel nuts for a masala shop for a living. She also works as a domestic help at one of the relatives’ house.
“I also get the ‘Niraadhaar Scheme’ benefit – that's Rs 900 per month. I get Rs 500 per month from an NGO which I use to take care of my children's education. I work as a domestic help at one of my relatives' houses. They pay me for that,” she said.
Usha gets Rs 100 per day to work at her farm. After school, her daughters also work on others’ farms as labourers.
Chaya has inherited her husband’s land, but faces many challenges to cultivate it on her own.
“Last year, I took some loans for my land. Taking a bank loan is better than taking it from these local moneylenders. So I took a bank loan,” said Chaya.
“When it comes to cultivating (the land) on my own, I have to look to rent a tractor first. I can only use it depending on the availability. There are hundreds of such problems but I can’t lose hope. Cattle and animals destroy the crops during the night. I am a woman, I can't guard the farm during the night. So, I have to bear those losses too,” she said.
‘My Children Tell Me, These Difficult Times Will Pass’
“My kids don't crave for any more than I can provide for them. They tell me that these difficult times will pass and that they just want me and nothing else,” said Radha. She wants to educate her children so that they don’t have to face hardships in the future.
“If my children are well-educated, they will be able to support us as well. Especially after what happened to the father, if my son goes on the wrong path, I will regret it,” she said.
Usha, who is worried about getting her three daughters married, says she will not care if their husbands are poor, she will only make sure the families are good at heart.
Unsung Heroes Help Farm Widows Get Back on Their Feet
Upendra Gawande and his brother Nilesh work with Prakruti NGO that helps such women gain financial stability. “The patriarchal culture of our society is to blame for the fate of farm widows across Maharashtra,” Upendra said.
“When an incident like a husband killing himself takes place, they (wives) are left alone. In such cases, after a suicide, whatever the woman is supposed to inherit, they (in-laws) make plans as to how to get her thrown out of the properties she is entitled to inherit,” he said.
“We have helped some families where women had lost all hope. After the man's death, the women also didn’t feel like living. But when they get some help from others and NGOs, that gives them the courage to stand on their feet,” said Nilesh.
Despite All Odds, These Courageous Widows Have Hope & Courage
These women might have seen the worst in life, but that has gotten out the best in them.
Usha said that she kept herself going by looking at people even less privileged than she is.
“There were times when I felt there’s no use of me living anymore. I had lost all hope. But looking at people even less privileged than I am, kept me going. I started working. That gave me the courage. My daughters have grown up now. They give me courage too,” she said.
Chaya’s father had offered to get her remarried if her in-laws agreed to raise her son. But she wasn’t up for it.
Not just Maharashtra’s farm widows, but many women across the country are still considered a burden after their husband’s death. Women like Radha, Chaya and Usha had the support of Prakruti NGO that helped them regain faith in themselves and stand on their feet. But the women who don’t, they continue to face unimaginable hardships at the hands of their families, in-laws and society. Their fate won’t change until society decides to change itself.