The Forgotten Girls

I was first introduced to the widows of Vrindaban when I was barely 20 years old and on my first pilgrimage to India.

A small group of us were walking the 14 kilometer path around Govardhan Hill with our guru –all of us barefoot, dressed in simple saris and dhotis, and chanting quietly on beads.

We started after sunset to avoid the heat, expecting to finish many hours later.

When we finally got to the village of Radha Kund, it was probably 2 o’clock in the morning. I was overwhelmed with both fatigue and elation at having arrived at such a sacred place, and I offered my obeisances in the dust.

But what struck me, even more than the beautiful reflection of the full moon on the lake, were the elderly women who dotted the pathways. Squatting flatfooted on the ground, they held out the ends of their saris to accept the occasional coin, while calling in love, “Radhe! Radhe!”

They glowed with devotion.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that, even though their spiritual evolution was inspiring (to say the least), their essential physical needs were being largely neglected.

These women are among more than 30,000 mostly-Bengali widows who, wishing to live out the end their lives in a holy place, move to the towns of Vrindaban, Nabadwip or Varnasi often, sadly, to be forgotten and even exploited.

According to a 2004 study conducted by The Guild of Service with support from the National Commission for Women, nearly half of India’s 40 million elderly widows are in need of some form of supportive services.

For many, losing their husband means also losing rights to property and shared assets, despite a 1969 legislative Act intended to protect them. One explanation? The survey of 316 widows begging in Vrindaban and Varnasi found a staggering 91.25% to be illiterate.

So, when I watched the video below, featuring a Bangla girl whose life course will be different, I got a little teary.

Because pure devotion and self-determination are not mutually exclusive.

The Girl Effect is defined as the unique potential of 600 million adolescent girls to end poverty for themselves –and for the world. Please watch it.

You are invited:

Write about The Girl Effect at your blog this week, in time for International Children’s Day on November 20. Then add your link to The Girl Effect Blog Campaign page.

Read other posts in The Girl Effect Blog Campaign, organized by Tara Sophia Mohr at Wise Living Blog.

Spread the word by tweeting about this blogging campaign and use the hashtag #girleffect.

Learn more at

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6 Responses to The Forgotten Girls

  1. Julie Daley says:

    I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like if I lived in India. I was widowed at 38, and when I traveled to India years later (including Varanasi), I realized just how forgotten and marginalized widows are there.
    This is a poignant post. Thank you.

  2. Bridget says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I love the picture of the woman. It’s hard to imagine these old women living without shelter, on a few coins from strangers every day. They are indeed forgotten girls.

    • Dasi says:

      Hi, Bridget! Thank you so much for visiting.

      The beautiful woman in the photo lives in Navadwip, West Bengal. She is sitting sentinel outside a tiny temple, which is through the blue door. I saw her as I was passing on a bicycle ricksaw and hopped off to give her a donation and say Namaskar. She was very happy to chat and have her picture taken.

  3. Beautiful, poignant, sad. Inspiring. Paradox. Love. Love. Love. Thankfulness for your words. Grace.

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