Village of widows
The government of Rajasthan promises a maximum of INR 750 as old-age pension to its poor elderly citizens, but the pension for widowed women could go up to INR 1500, depending on the person’s age. Naturally, it makes sense for a woman on the old-age pension scheme to shift to the widow pension scheme when her husband passes away.
My colleagues and I, as part of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), visited some villages in Bhim, Rajasthan, trying to make this shift happen for as many women as possible. Our job was to talk to the women there and find out whether they were on a pension scheme, and if they were receiving old-age pension, would they be eligible for the widow pension instead. This meant asking these women, point-blank, if their husbands were still alive.
As we went on with our task, we were quite taken aback. Families after families had lost their men. In fact, it felt like everywhere we looked in the village, there were widows—old, young, and middle-aged. And the traumatic experience of losing a loved one was so normalised, that most women gave us this information very nonchalantly.
While there were several reasons for this seemingly high mortality of men, it appeared that the most prevalent cause was silicosis, which results from inhaling excessive amounts of dust containing silica. People working in marble mines are easily subjected to it, and Rajasthan has many such mines. The state has been famous for its marble for centuries—Makrana marble was used to construct the Taj Mahal—and even today, marble from Rajasthan is widely used in modern houses.
While we helped these women access their entitlements, we could do nothing about their bigger problem: the occupational hazard that would continue to leave women widowed for decades to come.
Saahil Kejriwal is an associate at India Development Review. You can read more of his writing here.