Days after Herwad village in Maharashtra's Kolhapur district passed a resolution to ban the customs associated with widowhood to maintain women's "right to live with dignity", those spearheading the campaign are now following up with the state government, demanding that a law be framed to end the "regressive" traditions.
The village passed the resolution on May 4, after which the Maharashtra government issued a circular asking all gram panchayats in the state to adopt the "Herwad model".
The Herwad gram panchayat in Shirol taluka passed the resolution to ban customs like removing a widow's mangalsutra, toe ring, wiping her sindoor (vermilion) and breaking her bangles as part of rituals handed down over time. As per the customs, widows were barred from attending social and religious gatherings.
The pioneering move by this village is being seen as the beginning of the enactment of a law to safeguard the dignity of widows.
Pramod Zinjade, who heads a social welfare organisation named after reformer Mahatma Phule in Solapur district, is an inspiration behind the Herwad model.
Talking to PTI, he said Herwad is the first village in the country to pass such a resolution and seven more villages have followed suit.
"Mere resolutions will not be enough and a legal sanction to end the regressive practices is the need of the hour," he said.
He said he has held a meeting with deputy chairperson of the state legislative council Neelam Gorhe on the need for a legislation.
"She told me that the issue will be discussed in both the houses of the state legislature during the monsoon session in July. The law and judiciary department will see if a new legislation is required needed or the existing laws can be amended," he said.
Zinjade said he has given his suggestions to Gorhe regarding what provisions should be there in the proposed or amended law.
The other widows who disfigure the deceased man's grieving wife, the relatives who silently watch it happen, the villagers who participate in the funeral should all be held guilty for humiliating the widow. The women who perform the regressive actions should be punished with three months to one year in jail and Rs 5,000 to Rs 1 lakh penalty be imposed on them, he said.
The relatives should be punished for 15 days to one month in jail and Rs 5,000 to Rs 50,000 penalty. While the participants in the funeral should be punished by way of making them sit together for a day in the village itself, he said.
A monitoring committee should be set up to check if the law is being violated at the local level. The committee should have 50 per cent women as members and half of them should be widows, Zinjade said.
His suggestions include that two committee members should be present at the place where a male member of the family has died and they should see if the wife is being humiliated with the regressive practices.
Zinjade said the committee members should be trained to videoshoot the funeral proceedings and hand it over to the tehsildar, police or the women and child protection officer along with the signature of witnesses on a form prescribed by the government.
He also demanded that people who don't respect widows during social, religious or cultural functions should also be punished with 15 days jail sentence.
Herwad sarpanch Surgonda Patil said before the resolution was passed, awareness work regarding doing away with the regressive practices related to widows was in progress for the last five months with the help of Zinjade, who has created a WhatsApp group of sarpanchs from different parts of the state and leads the forum demanding law to ban the customs linked to widows.
Patil said even though the regressive practices related to widows were followed everywhere for ages, the number of deaths due to Covid-19 in the first and second waves made them realise the dire social situation of widows very glaringly.
"Several young people died due to the virus infection leaving behind young widows and this is where the social ostracisation of widows was rampantly seen and we felt something needs to be done,'' Patil said.
Zinjade said one his colleagues died on June 11, 2020, due to a severe heart attack. "As the funeral pyre was lit, the sindoor of his wife was wiped off, bangles and mangalsutra were broken and toe ring was removed. The woman was crying, asking the other widows not to do so and let her husband's memories remain with her. Hence, I decided that such practices need to be eradicated like that of sati."
On March 29 this year, Zinjade submitted an affidavit on a Rs 100 stamp paper to the local tehsildar saying that he had freed his wife from being subjected to the regressive practices faced by a widow after his death.
"Women have a right to live with dignity," he said.