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Ostracised destitute widows belong to the "socially disadvantaged class" of society and are not treated with dignity they deserve in shelter homes in Vrindavan and elsewhere, the Supreme Court said today. A bench comprising Justices Madan B Lokur and Deepak Gupta noted encouraging widow re-marriage was a "subject of hope" that it would end stereotype view about them and constituted a 6-member committee to study reports furnished in the apex court about their condition, and come up with a common working plan by November 30 this year. The apex court said as a part of its constitutional duty, it was necessary to intervene in the issue so as to give voice to these "hapless widows", who were dealt with in a manner as if they have ceased to be entitled to live a life of dignity. "One of the issues adverted to during the hearing of the petitions, but not mentioned in any of the reports, is the need to encourage widow re-marriage. This is a subject of hope that might enable our society to give up the stereotype view of widows.
We request the committee to consider this during its deliberations," the bench said in its 20-page order. The top court referred to the concept of public interest litigation (PIL) and said there was a need to remind from time to time about its efficacy in providing social justice. "The advantage of public interest litigation is not only to empower the economically weaker sections of society but also to empower those suffering from social disabilities that may not necessarily be of their making. The widows of Vrindavan (and indeed in other ashrams) quite clearly fall in this category of a socially disadvantaged class of our society," the court said. It said, "It is a pity that these widows have been so unfortunately dealt with, as if they have ceased to be entitled to live a life of dignity, and as if they are not entitled to the protection of Article 21 of the Constitution". The bench said that socially underprivileged groups were those people who have no real access to justice, are voiceless and were needed to be empowered. "There can be little or no doubt at all that widows in some parts of the country are socially deprived and to an extent ostracised. Perhaps this is the reason why many of them choose to come to Vrindavan and other ashrams where, unfortunately, they are not treated with the dignity they deserve," it said. "It is to give voice to these hapless widows that it became necessary for this court to intervene as a part of its constitutional duty and for reasons of social justice to issue appropriate directions," the bench said. While constituting the committee, the top court said that the effort put in by all authorities concerned in the reports should not go waste and it must be gainfully utilized, being in a sense a gold mine of pragmatic and workable suggestions. The committee would consist of Suneeta Dhar of NGO Jagori, Meera Khanna of Guild for Service, activist and lawyer Abha Singhal, advocate Aparajita Singh and a nominee each from NGOs HelpAge India and Sulabh International. The apex court has asked the National Commission for Women to assist in providing working space to the committee and said that adequate remuneration with an honorarium to be given to the panel members would be decided later. The bench has fixed the matter for resumed hearing on October 9. In its order, the court also noted the agreed action plan handed over to it by Solicitor General Ranjit Kumar which has highlighted several steps that were required to be taken to improve the situation of destitute widows in the country. During the earlier hearing of the matter, the solicitor general had read out in detail the steps, including creation of interactive database of destitute widows, mechanism to provide them legal aid, funds for infrastructural development of shelter homes, and skill development of such women so that they can be self-employed. The apex court had earlier taken note of the "pathetic" condition of widows after a petition was filed in 2007 highlighting how they lived in welfare homes in Vrindavan. It had referred to various reports filed by the National Legal Services Authority, District Legal Services Authority and National Commission for Women on the condition of shelter homes for widows in Vrindavan. One of the reports had said that there was lack of proper toilets and bathrooms in the shelter homes, besides poor water and electricity facilities.
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