|E D I T O R I A L
P A G E
Sunday, November 22, 1998
The widows of Brindavan and Varanasi
By T. V. Rajeswar
WILLIAM BENTINCK and Ram Mohan Roy were instrumental in banning the cruel Hindu ritual of sati or the burning of widows on the funeral pyre with husbands in 1828. That sati still prevails in some form or the other in the backwoods of Rajasthan is a different story.
Man who defused crisis
By Harihar Swarup
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has come to be known as the person who made war with Iraq impossible. He has also acquired the sobriquets "secular Pope" and "diplomat-in-chief".
Annan has succeeded again in defusing the crisis over arms inspection that led to US threat to attack Iraq and the subsequent military build-up in the Gulf region. He was in Morocco when the Gulf crisis reached flash point with the decision to pull out all UN weapons inspectors.
By T. V. Rajeswar
WILLIAM BENTINCK and Ram Mohan Roy were instrumental in banning the cruel Hindu ritual of sati or the burning of widows on the funeral pyre with husbands in 1828. That sati still prevails in some form or the other in the backwoods of Rajasthan is a different story. As for the widows of Bengal, the banning of sati 170 years ago has not ended their misery even today since a large number of them are experiencing living death in the choultries and dharamshalas in the lanes and alleys of Brindavan, Mathura and Varanasi. It is a sad story which people would not like to be reminded of but these stark realities stare them in their face.
In the late 1970s a social activist from Calcutta, accompanied by his wife, visited Brindavan to look into the lives of the large number of widows living there. The majority of the widows residing in the various dharamshalas were found to be from West Bengal. The management of the dharamshalas were in the hands of a few persons who received donations from the public as well as from the government but most of it was misappropriated by them. The widows were asked to make cotton wicks for sale and also attend to the various household chores before they were provided with two meals a day. Their presence at the evening prayer was compulsory. Very few of them were still receiving financial assistance from their kith and kin in West Bengal and most of the widows were completely at the mercy of the management of the dharamshalas. The widows were closely watched and not allowed to interact with the visitors.
Despite these restrictions, some of the widows were contacted and their stories ascertained. Most of them were to a pattern in that they were encouraged, soon after they become widows, to proceed and settle down in Varanasi or Brindavan and they were promised regular financial remittances so that their requirements could be taken care of. Invariably these remittances dried up and totally stopped after some time ranging from six months to a year. As for their kith and kin in Calcutta and some of the moffusil towns from where the widows migrated, they had all but ceased to exist and not considered their responsibility anymore. It is a sad state of social irresponsibility and indeed tantamount to culpable criminal negligence. Unfortunately, the several social organisations and even the state machinery failed to take note of the situation and initiate appropriate remedial measures.
In the mid 1950s West Bengal had enacted the Hindu Widows Maintenance and Adoption Act and the cause of the widows were taken up by the Legal Aid Services of West Bengal. This, however, was not a sustained effort. Again, in the early 1990s a three-member team headed by a sitting Judge went on a fact-finding mission to Varanasi and the report created a storm. When I was Governor, West Bengal, in 1989-90 a meeting of the various social organisations was convened at the Raj Bhavan and I was able to secure the services of two well-known social workers of Bengal, Renuka Roy and Dr Roma Chaudhury. An umbrella body of social organisations under the name of Shanti Vishram was formed with the two ladies as President and Vice-President, respectively. A well-known social activist, Rusi Gimi, became its General Secretary. Some of the women activists of the social organisations who had first-hand knowledge of happenings in Varanasi and Brindavan gave their account. It was decided, at the meeting of Shanti Vishram on November 29, 1989, that a team of ladies should visit Brindavan, Mathura and Varanasi and make a thorough study and submit a report for follow-up action.
Meanwhile, steps were initiated to arrange accommodation with the help of the state government for accommodating the widows who could be repatriated from the pilgrim centres and various measures for rehabilitating them in those shelters were also discussed. This was necessary since most of the rescued were either unwilling to return to their homes or their own kith and kin were not willing to take them back. The question of enhancing the state pension for widows was also taken up with the State Government. It was found that there was a provision for widows pension but they were not being paid to the widows in Brindavan and Varanasi due to various technical objections.
I left West Bengal in February, 1990, and regretfully all the three office-bearers, Renuka Roy, Roma Chaudhury and Rusi Gimi, had passed away since then. The activities of Shanti Vishram are not known since then. It is clear, however, that nothing much has changed insofar as the fate of the Bengal widows in the pilgrim centres is concerned. According to the 1991 government census, India had the largest number of widows in the world, numbering 33 million. A survey conducted by the National Commission for Women on the state of affairs in the pilgrim centres showed that the widows were living in inhuman conditions and some of the older ones were reduced to begging since the food given to them was not adequate to fill their stomach. The younger widows were exploited and recruited to the flesh trade. It should be said to the credit of the National Human Rights Commission as well as the National Commission for Women that they had taken the cause of the widows with firmness and persistence. According to the NCW there were about 15,000 widows living in Mathura and Brindavan and possibly a similar number in Varanasi as well. The Central Government pension of Rs 100 per mensem to all women above 60 years of age, who were without any sustenance, was not being paid to them in the pilgrim centres.
The Department of Women and Child Development of the Human Resource Development Ministry reportedly wrote to the Government of West Bengal recently to stop the persisting trend of widows being sent away to the pilgrim centres for permanent residence. In their recent report the Department had said that West Bengal had conceded that no survey was made by them or by any other agency though this was not quite correct insofar as non-governmental agencies were concerned. It nevertheless shows the abject apathy on the part of the Government of West Bengal, and more than the government, the people of Bengal, towards this tragic lot of widows leading a humiliating life in the pilgrim centres of Uttar Pradesh. The Department had reportedly urged that the pension money for widows, which was said to be Rs 300 per mensem, should be increased. More than the increase it had to be ensured that this money was actually paid, along with whatever the Central Government pension for those aged women. More importantly the question of repatriation of these widows from these pilgrim centres and their rehabilitation in their native environment so as to enable them to live a decent and honourable life should be pursued.
It is indeed sad that
Bengal which worships Mother Goddess as the primordial
deity should have turned a blind eye to such glaring
inequities. The worship of Mother had been a time
honoured and celebrated tradition as well as an
entrenched religious practice in Bengal. Puja is
celebrated with gay abandon every year. Bankim Chandra
Chatterjee wrote the Vande Mataram poem which appeared in
his novel Ananda Math at the turn of the century. Its
English translation appeared in the Statesman of Calcutta
on October 20, 1905. It begins with the sentence
Hail Mother, and ends with "Mother,
Mother, Hail". It was in praise and worship of
Mother Goddess Durga and indirectly the Bharat Mata which
explained Vande Mataram becoming a much-hailed national
slogan. That the song was in praise of Mother Goddess
showed the high pedestal in which the Mother was placed
and revered. On the other hand, the manner in which
Bengal treated its unfortunate mothers who became widows
in another story and yet another illustration how India
and its people are notorious for their hypocrisy and the
ocean of difference between their precept and practice.
By Harihar Swarup
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has come to be known as the person who made war with Iraq impossible. He has also acquired the sobriquets "secular Pope" and "diplomat-in-chief". Annan has succeeded again in defusing the crisis over arms inspection that led to US threat to attack Iraq and the subsequent military build-up in the Gulf region. He was in Morocco when the Gulf crisis reached flash point with the decision to pull out all UN weapons inspectors. This could have been a prelude to American-led strike of targets in Iraq. Then came Annans personal appeal to President Saddam Hussain which was conciliatory and, at the same time, served a warning to him: "Return to full compliance with international demands or accept the inevitability of military action".
Contrary to the expectation of the USA and its western allies, Saddam responded positively to Kofis appeal; Iraq agreed to allow UN weapons inspections to resume work without conditions. Saddam also received a letter from the UN Secretary-General.Although the contents of the letter are not known, it is widely speculated that it contained Annans personal assurance to work for the lifting of UN sanctions on Iraq if weapons inspectors were allowed to go back to work. The UN had imposed crippling economic sanctions on Iraq following Saddams invasion of Kuwait in 1990, triggering the Gulf war.
At one stage Annan was sidelined and military action looked imminent as both the USA and Britain suspected Iraqs motives but soon he returned to centrestage and asserted the authority of the UN and acted as "a true servant of the Security Council" which has often been described as the "UNs top table". His public welcome of Iraqs climbdown drew prompt support from France, Russia, China and Arab countries, making both the USA and Britain furious. These countries obviously feared that a western strike on Iraq could destabilise the entire region.
Annan otherwise was known to be the staunchest pro-American Secretary-General ever. He was the most favourite choice of the USA for the world bodys most important office when egotistical Boutros Boutros Ghali did not get a second term last year.
Annan is not new to the UN; he spent 30 long years in the service of the world organisation. Kofi has been a popular name in the corridors of the UN. For years the representatives of the member states as well as the large press corps covering the UN, have been familiar with Kofi Atta Annan. He had described his elevation to the high office last year as "hail-and-farewell" because it was farewell to Kofi and hail to the new Secretary General.
This was for the first time that a senior officer and a true African (a black) has been bestowed upon the distinction of occupying the highest office in the UN. Hailing from Ghana and proficient both in English and French and having knowledge of seven African languages, Kofi describes himself as "a son of Africa and a lifetime civil servant". The word "kofi" in his native language means "Friday born". Incidentally, it was on Friday that the Security Council recommended to the General Assembly Annans name for putting its seal of approval.
The first and the major task that confronted Annan when he sat on the Secretary-Generals chair was to persuade the USA to pay the whopping $ 1.4 billion due to the UN. Annan was able to recover, at least, a part of the staggering debt Washington owes to the world body.
The plea of Annan has been that "it is not really in the interest of the USA not to pay its contribution to the United Nations. It offends foes and friends alike. The USA needs the United Nations and the United Nations needs the USA. We cannot operate effectively and efficiently without a sound financial base."
Kofi Annan wants to "demystify" the UN and not to make it so bureaucratic and distant from the average person. His firm view is that "we should bring the organisation close to the people."
As Under-Secretary-General, Annan was praised for his role in peacekeeping operations and initiating "oil-for-food" scheme to ease the humanitarian crisis in Iraq. He also successfully negotiated the repatriation of over 900 international staff and release of western hostages following that countrys invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
The world is looking to
the seventh Secretary-General, a son of Africa, to give a
new direction to the United Nations to grapple with the
problems of a new world, the post-cold war world. Despite
the problems Kofi Annan appears to be succeeding.
Alleged fraud on insurance company
IN the matter of appeals filed by Capt Cary Alim and Ramji Bhai against their conviction and sentence by the Additional Judicial Commissioner, Mr Madgavker, the Bombay High Court Bench today announced their decision, declaring it a case of misdirection of the jury which had caused a failure of justice.
As regards further procedure, two of the appellants, for considerations of health, wished for a hearing of the appeals on their merits in preference to the case being remanded for retrial, Capt Carys counsel declaring his client to be in the last stage of heart trouble.
Their Honours, therefore, ordered hearing of the appeals and finished with Alim for whom it was contended that he had blindly followed Capt Cary in ordering the sale of practically undamaged goods, being therein guilty of negligence or carelessness, but certainly not of fraud. The hearing continues.
BOMBAY: At the
Bombay Legislative Council, replying to Mr Petit, Mr
Lawrence, the Finance Member, stated that the Government
urged revision of the Meston settlement with a view to
having a more equitable distribution of revenues between
the Central Government and different provinces but the
Government of India had not consented to reopen the
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