The Meaning of Death

Anuradha Bhosale AVANI Kolhapur India Gandhi Worldwide



Women are on the lowest rung of the exploitative social pyramid. When married off, they enter a form of serfdom under the patriarchal grip which has more than one prong. The male and female in-laws and the master of the set-up, the husband at the top, together rule the roost and the poor women are at the receiving end. In the absence of education, their body is the only dependable apparatus for earning a living.

Overwhelming majority of the husbands are alcohol addicts.  Much of their earning is invariably blown on drinks. That results in starvation of the women and their children and multiple deprivation.  Government has enacted welfare laws with these people in focus. Implementation of the laws is in the hands of bureaucracy and local politicians who lack the necessary motivation and commitment. The funds are frittered away and end up in the wrong pockets and the target groups remain high and dry.

Illiterate women do not get organized to be able to gain advantages of the government schemes.  These women at the bottom of the pyramid are hemmed in from all sides and, where they are not organized they fall prey to despair and frustration. When a point beyond endurance is reached self inflicted death becomes a welcome relief.  Death is a matter of indifference to the woman who chooses it in a dark moment of desperation. In the form of her innocent children she leaves behind an endless trail of sorrow and suffering.

Kavita was one such unfortunate mother. In the life of twenty eight summers, she had become a mother of four children, three daughters and a son, the last born, only two years. The main cause of her suffering was her husband, a chronic tippler. He had a fixation about Kavita’s infidelity. I knew her well because her two daughters, Anjali and Usha are in our hostel. She regularly attended the monthly meetings of the parents. Her husband never attended the meeting even once.

Kavita was in the habit of spending some time with me after the meetings were over. Invariably, she complained to me about her husband’s addiction, and the bashing she underwent. The husband blew his income on drinks.  Kavita had to work for a living. She was in effect the bread winner of the whole family. Several times I had asked her to get separation from the husband, but she did not agree for fear of the stigma from her community and even a slur on her character. She was of a nomadic tribe which has borrowed all the conservatism and patriarchal social ethos of the traditional Hindu society.

The second of January 2011 proved to be the point of no return.  In a make shift shelter at a brick yard violent quarrel happened between her and the husband which culminated in merciless beating by the inebriated man.  In a moment of utter despair she doused kerosene on her saree and lit herself. She died that evening in Sangli hospital.

“Please take care of my children and give them good education!” were the last words she spoke to our activist and then sank into eternal silence. My two – hour journey from AVANI to Sangli with Kavita’s children was a trying experience. I had seen that they had their food before embarking on the journey.

They knew that their ever loving mother who bought new clothes for them and took them home for religious festivals like Diwali, who fondly brought their favourite snacks whenever she came on visits to AVANI, who impressed upon them the importance of education is severely burnt, and they were travelling to see her in a hospital. But they did not know that she is already dead, and I did not know how to tell them about it.

Because at their tender age they did not know what death really means. After a time I braced myself to tell them they will see their mother sleeping on the hospital cot for the last time; that she will no more come to AVANI to meet them or bring sweets for them. I gathered them in my arms and my forbearance gave way. I wept uncontrollably. Anjali and Usha tried to mop my tears with their little kerchiefs. Their eyes too brimmed with tears and crying loudly they clung to me in a tighter embrace. They vaguely understood a calamity has overtaken their lives.

Months passed in the usual routine and Diwali vacation began. Parents and guardians of other children came to AVANI to take their children home. But Anjali and Usha did not expect their mother to come this time, for they knew what death really means: Total absence of your loved one from your life.

Original Marathi : Anuradha
Translation : Arun Chavan

Please donate generously!

Anuradha Bhosale graduated from the Tata Institute for Social Work in Mumbai and worked as an apprentice to Arun Chavan at Verala Development Society. After understanding the needs of the area she branched out on her own creating a small organization called AVANI which is a Marathi language acronym for Clothes, Food and Home for the poor children.

Arun Chavan was a professor of English Literature at Kolhapur University when he saw the poverty and destitution that surrounded him. He decided to give up his job and devote his life to working for the poor. He founded the Verala Development Society and has been working for the past 40 years to bring about a socio-economic change in the area.

Speak Your Mind