Nimi Mastey


Contemporary discourse on widowhood in India tends to concentrate heavily on quantitative evaluation. Discussion of the narratives of the women is confined to more popular medium, and tends to focus on the need of the women to be empowered. By simply visiting ashrams in Vrindavan it becomes clear that the term “empowerment” is vastly up to interpretation. This study focuses on the models of empowerment applied by two different widow ashrams: Ma-dham and Chetan Bihar. Through obtaining narratives of the women’s lives, I attempt to assess the success of the ashrams in “empowering” the widows, and question the necessity and implications of this empowerment. There seems to be no unified vision of what constitutes empowerment for any two women to the extent that while most dislike the state of widowhood, a significant and surprising number seem to prefer widowhood to marriage. In all, “empowerment of women,” a phrase used by nearly every women’s organization, is ambiguous and at times misused. In analyzing the situation of widows in Northern India, there emerges the need to distinguish between personal power and external empowerment by researchers in the field, as well as by the ashrams working to alleviate social injustice.

Author Biography

Nimi Mastey, Stanford University, Human Biology