Union Ministry for Women and Child Development, with support from Uttar Pradesh government, has opened a new ashram or shelter home for widows spread over 4 acre of land in Vrindavan. The move comes after a long wait as there are approximately 34 million widows in India, of which more than 6,000 reside in parts of Vrindavan and Govardhan alone.
The women are mostly old, whose husbands have died while their families left them abandoned. The women have to beg on the streets for survival and take shelter in such ashrams, most of which are in bad conditions. That is why Krishna Kutir, a Central government initiative, has been applauded by people all over. Speaking to The Sunday Guardian, Krishna Kutir’s resident superintendent Sneha Kedia said that the ashram is a step towards giving these abandoned women a life of dignity. “Krishna Kutir is a 1,000-bed ashram. Right now, we have 920 beds as the other 80 have been converted into sitting arrangements. Every dormitory has a living room and these beds will be used there,” she said. Describing the ashram as Union Minister for Women and Child Development Maneka Gandhi’s dream project, Kedia informed this newspaper that the work was started in 2015 and it took almost three years to complete. Each dorm has 10 beds, with five beds partitioned on each side.
“The ashram has 54 admissions at the moment,” she added.
Kedia said that any woman who does not have a home can seek shelter at Krishna Kutir. “The shelter is basically open for widows, but we can admit someone who is in dire need of a place as well. However, for women who are not widows, we have to consider the age criterion to take them in,” she added. The person seeking shelter at Krishna Kutir has to show some identity proof as evidence of being Indian. “Husband’s death certificate also works for admission, but identification is a must. Women from any state can stay here,” she said.
Admission to Krishna Kutir, which is completely free, is looked after by the Mahila Kalyan Nigam of the Central government, while the inmates are cared for by the charitable organisation, Deva Foundation.
Women coming to live in Krishna Kutir have their days scheduled with activities starting from morning till noon. “We have daily activities scheduled for the ‘matajis’ (as the inmates are called) here. So, their morning starts with prayers; we have a temple here. A few women start their day with a morning walk and sing ‘Hare Ram, Hare Krishna’. This starts between 6 am and 6.30 am,” Kedia said.
“After the morning walk, tea is served from 7 am to 7.30 am. From 8.30 am to 9.30 am, we have a full-fledged breakfast. After that, if any mataji wants to visit shops or temples, we arrange e-rickshaws for them between 10 am and 12 noon,” she added.
The women here are also given skill classes under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana.
“A centre is run by the Sun Foundation here on the second floor of the building, in which they are running the skill development project. Anybody can go and apply for classes there,” she further said. If the women wish to, they can apply for the classes. “However, we don’t force them to do anything; anyone who comes here is free to live in peace and according to their wishes, while we provide them a homely environment,” she added. The skill development classes are also open for girls and women living in nearby villages. Everything is free of cost and after training completion the women get a certificate as well.
The authorities are providing the women with all the basic necessities, from clothing to toiletries. Besides that, the medical needs of the inmates are also being taken care of in the ashram. “We are taking care of everything but the medical facilities will be taken care of by Help Age India,” said Kedia.
Help Age India is yet to set up their office in the building but, according to Kedia, they visit every Monday. “They are also available on call. Also, a bed is dedicated to the widows in the Mayawati Hospital.”
The women in case of demise get cremated by the caretakers of Krishna Kutir along with officials who take care of the procession and death certificates. “An old widow died a while back here. We informed the family but they didn’t come to take the body, so we arranged the whole procession here,” said Kedia.
Kedia explained that people and private enterprises can donate to Krishna Kutir. “Government has certain funds, which they have given. As there are few people, the demands are not that much, but when more women come we would need more things, for example, we have one e-rickshaw, so we would need more. Hence, funds will be needed,” said Kedia.
The ashram is a step forward in providing a decent life for women who have been ousted by their families.
The shelter home was inaugurated on 31 August by Union Minister Maneka Gandhi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath. However, the request of this correspondent to talk to the ashram inmates was declined.