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Topic started by Citizen (@ 208.200.214.2) on Fri Jan 26 12:11:56 EST 2001.
All times in EST +10:30 for IST.

Kumbh's brutal side -- hundreds of old women abandoned by their families
BHAVNA VIJ



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KUMBHNAGAR (ALLHABAD), JANUARY 25: Here, amid noisy crowds and the lashing of cold winds laden with the sand of the Ganges, you can hear the sound of weeping from a cowshed-like structure. These are the unheeded cries of elderly women, abandoned by their families. This is the uglier side of the Mahakumbh, where millions go to wash their sins, some to abandon their elderly mothers and female relatives.

Septuagenarian Girija Devi, her back bent almost double with old age and suffering, can't control her tears. ``I came with my sons and their families for the Mahakumbh from Devariya (near Gorakhpur). We were supposed to take a dip in the Ganga this morning but when I woke up, they were all gone. I looked for them everywhere but couldn't find them,'' she says. It was a policeman who found her crying and brought her to the shed, in the company of thousands of others with similar stories.

``This happens at every Kumbh festival. For families, Kumbh is a convenient way of getting rid of their old women who require care and attention. The women invariably think that they have been separated from their loved ones in the crowd, but nobody ever comes to take them back,'' says Ramesh Mishra, in charge of the shelter for ``lost women and children.''

The shelter in Kumbhnagar has been jointly set up by the Ranjit Pandit Shiksha Samiti and Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna Smriti Samiti. ``We have nearly 10,000 women in our shelter, all of them over 50. About 3,000 of them, who are genuinely separated from their families, will return home. They have come here only in the past two days. Somebody or the other will surely come in search of the children too but nobody will come to look for the older women -- most of them over 70 but many in their '60s too. They have been here for almost a fortnight,'' says Mishra.

``Many of the women left behind are from poor families but there are also those from not-so poor ones. It is just lack of love and sensitivity for women who have lived past their utility.''

Many of the women are sick, suffering from diseases of poverty and old age. Afflicted with arthritis and asthma to Alzheimmer's and Parkinson's -- these women have never got proper medical attention. ``We have some doctors here but they are not equipped to handle many of these problems, which require specialised attention,'' says Mishra.

What happens to the women once the Mahakumbh ends? ``We will try to trace their families and try to convince them to take them back or we will send them to some old-age home,'' he says, adding that there were some cases of old men also left behind but relatively not too many.

Coughing and wheezing, braving the cold in their inadequate clothing and insufficient arrangements, these women live with the hope that somebody will come to take them back home. ``I am sure my family must be frantic with worry. They must be looking for me. My sons really love me. They can never leave me here,'' says Bachaiya Nat from Rewa, dissolving into tears. She has been at the shelter since January 12and nobody has come to inquire about her. And probably nobody will. Ever.


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