Losing Red

By Usha

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(Photo credit: Rhijuta D)

She is wearing white from head to toe. Relatives, neighbors, friends, strangers, and whoever sees a woman in white, they have sympathy and pity for her. They understand that her husband died and that going forward she is expected to dress a certain way. In the history of Hindu culture, women were forced to be burnt alive along with their dead husbands. I do not know when that changed, but a women is still compelled to live a certain way after her husband dies. She isn’t supposed to wear red anymore and she isn’t able to participate and perform certain tasks and pujas. Most importantly, she can’t get married again, even if she was a bride for less than a year.

Recently, my mom told me that one of my neighbors passed away. It left me thinking about my neighbor’s wife. She must be going through so much pain right now. I remember her as a lovely lady who was always smiling, loved wearing red tika, pote (bridal necklace), and red saris. Now, that her husband is gone, she is probably never going to wear red anymore. It made me feel bad that women have to deal with their husband’s death but also follow rules that make her stand out even more. Women and girls can wear red and any color  long before they get married. So, why not let a widow wear red if she wants to?

A widow is also forbidden to do certain auspicious tasks and pujas in some occasions. She suddenly cannot do the things that she has been doing forever because she is a widow and there is fear that it will bring bad luck. I started to wonder what goes through their minds, how do they feel. Expectations from their family and society greets them even before the mourning period begins. Expectations like not wearing red, not being able to participate in certain tasks, and not being able to re-marry may make them feel that their life is not worth it anymore.

The ironic thing is that if a man loses his wife, no restrictions would apply because he is a male. He might even start looking for a new wife soon after. It’s not that he should be doing the same things because no one should go through that whether a man or a woman, it’s the disparity between the genders. Marrying a man who is widowed is common and people don’t think twice about it but marrying a woman who is widowed is taboo.

I see that things are changing in Nepal and lots of widows have started wearing colorful clothes but it is still no common for them to get re-married.  I hope that with generations, people’s way of thinking changes, widows start remarrying, and that women do not have to advertise themselves as a widow by the way they dress up. Imagine being a newly married woman when your husband suddenly dies, you are told that you can’t get married again, and that you must live the rest of your life as a single woman.

*Do you know any widows? How has their life changed since?

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4 thoughts on “Losing Red

  1. Richa P says:

    Thanks for writing this. I was just thinking about this yesterday. How hard it must be.. and why must everyone know that one is a widow? I watched the movie ‘Water’ and it was really sad and frustrating. What if women want to get married again, why shouldn’t they be able to especially if they are young and childless?

  2. Anonymous says:

    This sounds much to me like something that happened in our grandparents era. I have been living in Nepal couple of years now and I haven’t come across a single ‘widow’ (they prefer to be called single women rather than widow) who I am able to know (without her telling me) has lost her husband. I am glad this whole red thing is not really relevant in majority of Nepalis lives now.

    • Richa P says:

      That’s good to hear. I know a few members of my family that are single women.. they haven’t gotten remarried but they seem to be fine. I haven’t noticed them wearing red but they do wear other colorful clothing.

    • Usha says:

      That is good to know. I guess it depends on the location as well. I know a few who do not wear red at all but do wear other colorful clothes. Another thing I notice is they wear Yellow Tika not Red Tika (another indication why). They seem to be ok with it but I guess that’s the only option they have: to suck it up. Its definitely refreshing to hear its changing.

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