The Forgotten Women

Sunday, January 18, 2009

1 Comment

Written by Scott Gilbert

The Forgotten Women is a deeply moving documentary film that takes viewers inside the life of widows in India.

The film opens with an interview of a woman who was "offered at the age of 5" to the man she married. She is now a widow and lives in a shelter for women who have lost their husbands.

The images will sadden anyone, but the film is very much worth seeing. It is an issue not discussed much in our culture, nor does it appear to be hotly contested among men in India.

The film shows how many of these women are coerced by their families to give up their possessions once their husband dies, and then become essentially second-class citizens who are rejected by society at large, but most importantly from those who were once family.

It is not uncommon for the son (if one exists), to draft the paperwork for his widowed mother to sign that essentially robs her of all her property - the house, real estate, and even many personal possessions. The son and other family members then force the woman to leave the dwelling - many times within days - and fend for herself without any financial support.

These women tend to be uneducated, unable to find employment, unable to remarry, and completely rejected by their family and society. Some become beggars, some try to survive on the streets, and some go to shelters.

The filmmakers visit several of these shelters where they interview some of the women and learn about their life story. They tell of local priests prostituting them at night to other men, and keeping the money for themselves, among other things.

Some go to the shelters to pray for salvation, and others go for food. The scenes are sobering. Lines trailing around the block of old women, hobbling along for hours to get just a handful of plain rice. In some shelters donors from the big cities contribute funds to be distributed to the women for "chanting the Lord's name" - they are paid 6 rupees per day for their efforts.

The film claims there are about 45 million widows in India at present who experience some level of this trauma. Many view the death of their husband as the end of their meaningful life, and they go to the shelters to die.

This documentary is heart wrenching, but powerful and certainly worth seeing. It screens for free on campus Wednesday, Feb. 4 at 4:30 pm in Thormborough 1200 as part of the Docurama series that is hosted jointly by the CSA and McLaughlin Library. The film was shown in the HotDocs film festival in 2008 and is distributed by Mongrel Media.

For a full list of Docurama titles for this semester, visit:

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  1. Posted by: So ignorant of you! on Jun 14, 2009 @ 5:20am

    wow that used to happen when indians were financially exploited by the brits and poor people considered it better to send the widows off to the holy cities rather than feeding them at home,which they couldn't have afforded!it was more of a financial thing than cultural,and most of the widows that are in situations like these are the ones that went to these widow homes 40-50 years ago!

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