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`Water' has been flowing for long in Vrindavan

Manjari Mishra

LUCKNOW: In a shocking official report to the state government, UP's Social Welfare Board makes the following points:

* The `gurus' in Vrindavan have been sexually exploiting and blackmailing young widows.

* The vice ring in Vrindavan is so powerful that the administration cannot break it.

* Three widows were raped by `some of the town's elite' and the local administration is aware of it. But no FIR was lodged by the police who turned a deaf ear to the victims.

* The local administration did not cooperate with an inquiry committee set up by the board. As a result, not all complaints of widows could be recorded.

No state official wants to go on record on the report. One of them, on the condition of anonymity, said: ``It is the Centre which has to act now since the report was commissioned by it. The state government has done its bit by suggesting a rehabilitation package.''

According to sources, the chief minister has ordered an inquiry.

Apparently, the report was filed some months ago but kept under the wraps by the state government.

According to the report, 5,000 to 6,000 widows have taken shelter in Vrindavan. Almost all of them are from West Bengal. It gives graphic details of their living conditions, exploitation by ashrams and trusts and cites instances of women being treated worse than animals.

The committee members saw a young widow being denied a `token' - her passport to food - by a caretaker of a trust that runs an ashram. His justification: she always quarrelled. But other widows said she had been told she could get a token only if she rendered seva (service) to the caretaker.

Painting an alarming picture, the report says ``any man can accost these women on the road in the evening hours or night and molest them at will ...or sell them off. The victims can hardly complain... as their word has no value.''

The board names at least two ashrams which are vice dens, and the administration knows it.

Some of the widows have been in Vrindavan for over 30 years, but there are many young widows who have been lured to the town by the older ones with the promise of free food and shelter. These young widows are left in bhajan ashrams or with local gurus on the pretext that they would be given the `guru mantra' (religious initiation) there. The gurus, say the report, emotionally and physically exploit them and later turn them out, leaving them to fend for themselves.

There have been cases of abduction of the widows' teenaged daughters by local goons. The girls are almost never traced as the police do not lodge FIRs.

The committee members had to face the ire of goons during their survey. The caretaker of the Balajee temple threatened the widows with dire consequences if they answered the committee's questions. They saw a 55-year-old widow with blood stains on her clothes - she had been hit on the head by a `sadhu' with his kamandal because, hungry that she was, she joined the men's queue.

While officials in the social welfare department plead lack of money to provide relief to the women, the committee, comprising Ratna De, A K Gupta and Suman Srivastava, have proposed a rehabilitation plan.

Times Of India Feb-20

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Last updated: February 22, 2000.