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The Northerner

Women’s rights activist speaks about Indian widows

Stacey Barnes, contributing writer

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V. Mohini Giri, founder and trustee of The Guild for Service, a widow relief organization in India, came to Northern Kentucky University’s Otto Budig Theater to speak about the injustices to women in India. Abandoned widows, forced child marriages and high incidents of rape were the main topics of Giri’s speech.
In a country that has over 400 million women, Giri said that about 40 million are widows.

Widows are expected to wear only white clothes, eat once a day, confine themselves to a corner of the house and never leave the house, they cannot wear traditional or decorative adornments like jewelry and they must cut off all of their hair, according to Giri.

After the end of the Indo-Pakistani war in 1971, which claimed an estimated 300,000 lives, Giri said the country’s widowed population increased significantly and accounts for many of the widows living in India today.

There is also a ban on widows remarrying, which is responsible for much of the poverty among rural widows. According to Giri, Hindu society tradition and subtle male domination are the root causes of the injustices to women.

Giri also said that in many of the rural parts of India women, not just widows, are treated unjustly because they do not have access to education or employment.
Giri explained that she is working to change the conditions for women in India and that NKU nursing and social work students will be a great help when they visit the City of Widows in Vrindavan in December.
Giri said NKU students will help set up a small hospital there to teach the women how to take care of one another.
“These students are agents for change,” Giri said.

Tammy Peters, a senior social work student at NKU, said she is excited for the opportunity to travel to India and help Giri.
“I expect to be overwhelmed with the people and the culture there,” Peters said.

Shamell Smith, a junior social work student at NKU said she doesn’t know what to expect.
“Amazing,” Smith said when asked about the opportunity. “I am going with an open mind.”

A total of 15 NKU students will spend winter break applying many of the skills they learn in class and participating in the daily lives of widows.
With branches throughout India, Giri’s organization provides widows with shelter, food, opportunities for better health care and job training.
In an interview Giri said her work is easy.

“Because there is love, anything is easy,” Giri said. “With love all barriers are down.”

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Women’s rights activist speaks about Indian widows