PHOTO STORY: India's city of widows

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PHOTO ESSAY: India’s city of widows

David Shaw shows the life of the women India doesn’t want.

The town of Vrindavan, in north India, has a very old history. It is a sacred place for many religions, eg. Hinduism, and the Hare Krishna movement. The town is also where thousands of widows live - women whose husbands have died. They traditionally spend the rest of their lives with their religion.

They live together in ashram temples, and they pray and chant to Krishna all day. For this, they get a bed and small amounts of rice and water. They also beg on the streets to get a bit more money.

But recently, these traditions are changing: NGOs and international fashion designers are teaching the women to make textiles and other crafts. And they get money for this. The widows have lessons in Bengali, English and Hindi literacy, and get financial and healthcare support.

When their husbands die, the widows are seen as bad luck and too difficult to look after. They families send them to Vrindavan. They live simple, poor lives together, but they help each other and still have dignity.

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A widow in the Radha Kunjashram, Vrindavan, (‘the city of widows’).

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A widow enters an ashram in Radhakund where Maitri, an Indian NGO, is running a day of free health service to widows.

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A widow sits in the door of her government ashram. She is one of the ‘lucky’ ones. Many other women have to ask for money on the street to rent somewhere to live.

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Women cook in their rooms at the Swadher Matila Ashram.

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With the help of Indian NGO Sulabh, widows make textiles that are sold in local markets. The women are also being trained by Kopal, a New York-based fashion designer.

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Widows also make incense sticks, to be sold at local markets. The women are paid a percentage of what is sold.

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The women are now learning to read and write in Bengali, English and Hindi.

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A widow in Meera Sahabhagini Ashram, Vrindavan.

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A woman holds an old picture of her and her now-deceased husband.

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Basanti Dasi, aged 70, in her room at the Radha Kunj Ashram.

David Shaw is a photojournalist, now living in Beirut, Lebanon


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)