Fifty-seven men from villages in Uttarakhand, an area in northern India near the border of Tibet, are missing and presumed dead after flash flooding occurred in the mountains where they work. The men spend six months of the year in the mountains, ferrying pilgrims to and from Gaurikund, a Hindu temple several miles up the mountain.
The men all left behind wives, children and parents who depended on them for care and support. The Indian press has taken to calling these towns "the villages of widows." Aid groups and politicians have been quick to offer support to the women these men left behind.
Sulabha International, a non-governmental organization that specializes in sanitation, pledged to provide a monthy stipend of 2,000 rupees to each widow for care and support. A leader for the Dera Sacha, a local spiritual organization, said that his followers would remarry the women, or if they do not wish to remarry to help them set up new lives, according to a report from the Times of India.
The outpouring of support for the Uttarakhand widows and their children is encouraging, perhaps a sign that long-held prejudices toward widows and girls are starting to change.
Traditionally, Indian society has been hostile and oppressive to widows. Widows face discrimination, are disinherited from property, and have very little access to resources and opportunities, including land, decent work and an income, said U.N. Women's acting head, Lakshmi Puri.
"As a society, we can't move forward if widows don't have the same rights as everyone else," she said "We — national authorities, the United Nations, civil society, NGOs, and the public — must ensure that widows of all ages and their children are treated as equal human beings," she said.
Nearly 250 million women around the world are widows, according to research from the Loomba Foundation, a nonprofit group based in the United Kingdom. Forty-six percent of these women, 115 million people, live in crushing poverty.