| Widows at the sit-in in Imphal on Friday. A Telegraph picture |
Imphal, June 11: Becha Devi, 38, sat silently among other widows gazing at her one-and-a-half year old daughter sleeping on her lap.
She was more worried about tonight’s meal than the future of her daughter.
“There is no rice left for tonight. There is no one to help me. I don’t know what to do when my three children cry for food,” said Becha Devi, left a widow when her husband, Loitongbam Anjello, who worked as an insurance agent, was killed by unknown persons on February 6, 2009.
Becha Devi was among the more than 50 widows who took part in a sit-in at Singjamei market of Imphal West today, under the banner of the Conflict Widows Forum, to highlight their plight. The forum has 100 members and another 100 will be enrolling soon.
“The government should pay attention to the widows and extend support to the education of their children. If they are not looked after and their right to life not ensured, there will be more chaos in society,” Laishram Ongbi Ranjita Devi, the convenor of the Imphal East unit of the Conflict Widows Forum, said.
The acute shortage and soaring prices of essential commodities because of the two-month economic blockade has hit the widows hard.
Becha Devi returned to her parents and now lives with her old mother and three minor daughters at their Yurembam Awang Leikai residence in Imphal West. “I am now the lone bread earner of the five-member family. I stopped sending my two children to school, as I could not pay the monthly fees of Rs 150 each. I managed the family with the money I earned from the national rural employment guarantee scheme. Now it’s off-season. So I sold all my belongings to feed my mother and three children. I have no more belongings to sell. I often thought of committing suicide with my three children. But I could not. Now I am thinking of selling my piece of land,” she said.
Similarly, Phairembam Katnao Devi, 29, in Moirang of Bishnupur district, whose goldsmith husband was killed by unknown men four years ago, is experiencing the worst times. Katnao Devi lives with her two minor daughters and earns a meagre income by knitting clothes.
“The price of 1kg of rice is Rs 26. Kerosene is not available. Prices of all the commodities have gone up after the blockade. I borrowed money to feed my children. Now shops are not willing to give us commodities on credit. I also used to borrow money. But no one is willing to lend us money any longer. Our future is really bleak,” she said.
Manipur’s public distribution system is also collapsing with undeserving people getting the benefits and authorities siphoning off the items.
The ration cards of most of the widows were taken away by either their in-laws or relatives.
Some of the widows got compensation ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 under a centrally-sponsored scheme called Widow Pension Scheme, a onetime benefit, after their spouses’ death.
However, many widows did not get the complete amount and others were ignorant of the scheme.
They also do not enjoy the benefit of the government scheme that gives 35kg of rice per month to those living below the poverty line.
“Even women with husbands are experiencing the worst of times. Imagine what could be the fate of the widows living without any support. They need support from the government and society. Otherwise they will go the wrong way to eke out a living,” Takhellaambam Ambrabati, another widow, warned.