|Widows of Vrindavan|
Indian women's suffering begins at birth and continues through their entire lives. Girls are highly undervalued, there are 35 million fewer females than males, presumed dead, killed by midwife or parent or starved to death. Unltrasound technology is used mainly to find and destroy female fetuses. Ultrasound and abortion are available even in the smallest villages with no electricity or clean water.
The girls lucky enough not to be aborted face inequality and cruelty at every turn because of low social status of Indian women, according to SuperFreakonomics, a book by Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner that documents status of women in India.
Vrindavan, also called the city of widows, is the most shameful symbol of women's suffering. Satti, the immolation of surviving widows on a husband's funeral pyre, may have been banned in India, but life for many widows in India is still tragic as they are shunned by their communities and abandoned by their families, even their own children, according to a recent Aljazeera report.
The widows often live in severe poverty and are ostracized by society due to various superstitions - even the shadow of a widow can wreak havoc and bring bad luck, many Indians believe. Lack of education and any source of income forces them to beg on streets and many turn to prostitution for survival, according to the report.
The last time the issue of abandoned and ostracized widows got much attention in India was in 2005 when a Deepa Mehta film "Water" was released. The film Water features Chuyia , a 7-year-old child bride, whose 40-year-old husband dies. Chuyia's head is shaved and she is dressed in a coarse white sari. She is then taken to a Hindu temple to spend the rest of her life there. The film shows that several young widows are prostituted to clients to raise funds for the temple.
The irony is that the film Water's only acclaim came from audiences thousands of miles from India. Deepa Mehta was forced to finish making the film abroad after receiving death threats for "insulting" Hindu culture. It was nominated for an Academy award but it did not win. It, however, did win several other prestigious international awards.
More recently, Naatak, a Silicon Valley based theater company, did "Vrindavan" as a musical production. It takes a closer look at the politics and social ills behind the city of Vrindavan. It's directed by a Silicon Valley engineer Sujit Saraf who heads the theater company.
While all of South Asia needs to change the way women are treated, it's only Pakistan that appears to be willing to confront the issues of gender bias. Similar courage is needed in all of South Asia, particularly India, to do more to alleviate the suffering of women.
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