As politicians woo people from all sections of society this poll season, a forgotten lot continues to live a life of oblivion and abjectness -- the widows of Vrindavan.
Banished by their families and abandoned, the widows here are even ignored by politicians as well for most of them are not registered voters.
The widows also don't seem to care much about their political irrelevance as many of them believe that their situation would remain the same irrespective of who is in power. According to an estimate, there are around 5,000-6,000 widows living in Vrindavan, Govardhan, and Radha Kund areas of the Mathura Lok Sabha constituency, which goes to polls on April 18.
The total electorate in the constituency is around 17,99,321. Among the widows, less than 10 per cent have voter identity cards. The widows share a feeling of helplessness and abjectness about exercising their right to franchise.
Standing in a long queue for a meal in scorching heat, 90-year old Sudha Dasi does not remember when was the last time she voted in an election. Dasi, who hails from West Bengal, is not interested in voting in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections as well. She spent a major part of her widowed life in the narrow bylanes of the city. However, she is not alone. Hundreds of abandoned widows, who are living in Vrindavan, share her plight.
Most of the widows are either found begging, standing outside a temple waiting for 'bhandara' (free food), or singing bhajans for hours for a meagre amount of Rs 20. The widows, who are mainly from West Bengal, Odisha and Jharkhand, have been disowned by their families and left alone in the world to struggle for survival.
Since the widows do not comprise a large group, they are not a vote bank for any political party. In the last Lok Sabha elections, most of the widows did not have voting rights, but this time around many of those living in state government-run ashrams have got voter identity cards. However, it remains to be seen whether they will cast their vote or not.
A total 513 widows are living in six ashrams in Chaitnaya Vihar phase 1 and 2, Sitaram Sadan, Ras Bihari, Leela Kunj and Krishna Kutir here, according to women and child welfare department of the UP government. For the first time, 305 of them have got their voter ID cards. However, it is just 10 per cent of total number of widows living in pathetic conditions in this holy town.
Some live in privately-run NGOs or in rented accommodation and do not have voting rights. NGO officials say that it is difficult for them to go through the formalities with limited resources at their disposal. "It's not easy to go through all the formalities as some of them are very old. We don't have transportation facility and staff also," an official of a renowned NGO which is home to 53 widows said. Only five of the widows living in that NGO have voter IDs.
Many of these women say they are too fed up with their lives and are not interested in exercising their voting rights. "Why should I vote? What difference will it make? Will they give me food or shelter? My life is hell and it will remain so till my last breath. I won't vote even if I get a voter card," Jamuna Dasi, who is from Jharkhand and has been living in Vrindavan for last 25 years, told PTI.
Milan Devi from Tripura does not remember when was the last time she voted. "I don't know if I ever voted or not. What difference does it make? When our families abandoned us, what is our importance for the country," the 75-year-old woman said. Another widow, Nirmala from Uttarakhand, came to Vrindavan four decades ago after the death of her two sons. She sings in temples and lives on the food she gets there. "I don't have voter ID. I know that we have a woman MP but our problems remain the same. It seems that all the leaders have bigger issues to deal with. We are not important for anyone," she rued.
However, there are a few who are keen to vote. The government-run 'Ras Bihari Sadan' in Bhoot Gali is home for 65 widows that belong to the age group 60-85. Out of the 65 widows, 62 of them have already got their voter cards for the first time. "They are very keen to vote this time. In the assembly elections their names were not mentioned in the voter list but this time we made sure that they can vote and they are eager to vote," said Kiran Dubey, the warden of the ashram.
Apart from getting a monthly grant of Rs 1,850 and 35 kg ration from the state government, some of the widows also get a quarterly pension. But for most, it is all about an endless struggle for bread and butter issues irrespective of which government comes to power.