The bleached women of India

India the land of colors, celebrated the festival of ‘Holi’ last week. This festival signifies the arrival of spring and is celebrated over two days. On day 1, the community gets together to burn Holika/bonfire which signifies the victory of good over evil.



On the second day, family, friends and the community welcome spring by applying colored powder on each other’s faces (to begin with :-)), feasting and dancing together. This is the time to repair broken relationships, be grateful for the wonderful harvest and burn the inside negativity to welcome the season of spring with open arms. In recent years, Holi festival gained prominence in other parts of the world too. After all who can resist the celebration of fun, love and beautiful colors of spring?


Well, the women who have lost their husbands- ‘the widows’ in many parts of India- both urban and rural- are devoid of these bright colors. So last week when I saw the posts on Facebook highlighting the media news about ‘widows in India celebrating Holi’, I was taken over by optimism with some reservations of my own. I was happy to see that society is recognizing that widows are equally human and it was okay for them to celebrate with colors. On the other side, I feel this once a year celebration is just a small spark but what is really needed is a revolution to make this change go mainstream.

“Why?” you might ask. The answer lies in the drastic metamorphosis that a woman goes through as part of the change in her marital status, from ‘married’ to a ‘widow’. Besides the grief of losing her partner, she goes through a physical transformation as well, wherein she is literally bleached off the colors by the society’s unsaid code of conduct, and here is how-

  • As a widow, a woman is not supposed to wear a bright red ‘bindi’ (dot’) on her forehead, that once adorned her. A toned down color/black bindi are allowed in some societies, but in others she cannot apply any.
  • bindiThe colored bangles/bracelets that most of the Indian women love to wear are a big ‘no’ for the widow.
  • Even the regular everyday clothes are stripped off the colors for a widow. She is to be mindful of not selecting drapes/sarees/dresses of any bright color that might catch public attention, and become cause of her being the subject of gossip.
  • In some rigid communities, widows are allowed to wear only the shades of white.
  • HennaA widow cannot apply henna designs on her body. (Henna, when dried and washed, leaves a bright red hue on the body.)
  • A widow is not to celebrate with colors, which means she cannot play holi (not like us all). The most she can do is have little dots of colored powder, but she is considered immodest if covered completely in colors or seen publicly having fun and frolic.

Personally, when I feel dull and crappy, I like to dress up and add an extra dash of color to cheer me up. But it breaks my heart to see the widows who get stripped off the colors and fun from their lives as a constant reminder of their loss.
With the recent media posts, I want to believe that there is a positive change in society which is gearing towards being more open to widows. But deep down I know we need a paradigm shift wherein the widows can dress equally bright as their married counterparts and thus cannot be segregated physically, or socially sidelined from the festivities and celebrations.

I want to bring awareness to the world around me, and also to all those women who urge their fellow gender to pursue these shallow traditions. Death is inevitable, and no one remains untouched by it, regardless of gender or age. So, be kind to these women for one day you could be in the same boat, and in those rough times you would look to the women around you for comfort and strength.


Photo credit: Jangra Works via / CC BY

Photo credit: pabak sarkar via / CC BY

Photo credit: pratiphotography via / CC BY-NC-ND

Photo credit: zen via / CC BY-NC-SA

Photo credit: zeeble via / CC BY-NC-SA

One comment

  1. Not just are they ripped of colours even emotionally…its a challenge for her to live on her own terms as she was living ‘normally’ before the tragedy struck her. Rather people like to see her helpless..We have seen this so closely…
    Still a long way to go before mindsets change in India..

    Liked by 1 person

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