She got married at the age of 11. Six years later she was a widow.
Soon after, the in-laws of Kanaklata Adhikary, then a resident of Shobhabazaar in Kolkata, bundled her off to Vrindavan. She moved around the streets eking out a living mostly by begging and sometimes by working as maid at dharmshalas. It was only a few years back that she found shelter at an ashram run by an NGO in the temple town.
More than 70 years after she was unceremoniously dumped in Vrindavan, the fear of being thrown out of her home once again has begun haunting the woman who cannot even walk on her own now. Kanaklata’s anxiety stems from remarks made by Hema Malini, actor-turned BJP MP from Mathura, who said there are already 40,000 widows in Vrindavan and there was no room to accommodate more. “If they (widows) are not from here then there is no need for them to come here from other states. There are many famous temples in Bengal and Bihar too,” the 65-year-old Lok Sabha MP had said.
Hema had also said that several of the widows have bank accounts yet they crowd the streets to beg.
Pained and scared, Kanaklata and others like her, now say those who don’t want them in Vrindavan, can send them to Govinda (god).
“Where do I go from Vrindavan. I have got nobody at my place here? I am coming to Kolkata after 70 years. I had my sisters, but I don’t know where they are now. In fact, I have got only one place to go, to Govinda (God). If anybody has any problem, he or she can send me to Govinda,” Kanaklata said talking to The Indian Express.
Echoed Manu Ghosh, 82, who is originally from New Barrackpore in North 24-Parganas district. “She says we have bank accounts. This is such a cruel joke. We did not act in films like her and earned money. We live on doles given to us by the ashram keepers. And who is she to tell us to vacate? We are staying at Golokdham. It is Govinda’s place and not hers,” Ghosh, who has been staying at Vrindaban for the last 21 years, said.
Kanaklata and Manu are a part of a 50-member team of widows from Vrindavan who have been brought to Kolkata by the NGO Sulabh International to celebrate Durga Puja here. It is also a sort of homecoming for several of them.
While today they went to Raj Bhavan and met Governor Kesri Nath Tripathi, for the next two days they will have meetings with state minister for women and social development Shashi Panja before they are taken for joyrides on tram cars and puja parikrama.
The state government will soon be sending a fact-finding team to Vrindavan to check about their condition.
The story of all these widows is of utter deprivation, distress, fierce struggle for survival. Says Arati Nath who was originally from Machlandapur in North 24-Parganas district. “After my husband’s death four years ago, my three sons could not give me even two meals a day. So I had only one option, to go to Vrindavan, where at least I manage to earn my food. In the last four years, none of my sons even cared to find but whether I was dead or alive,” Arati said, sitting at Binani Bhavan in central Kolkata where the women have been put up.
None of them are inclined to go and see the near and dear ones they had once left. “Nobody will be happy if I go there. Even though I wish to visit the house I left 20 years ago, I ultimately had to give up the desire,” Gita Karmakar, from Burdwan, said.
The team of widows had a few from other states too. Kusum Mallya, 70, who was originally from Dhar in Madhya Pradesh is one of them. “Our life there is monotonous.
I saw Durga Puja at my home town in MP. I feel excited at the prospect of seeing the puja here,” Kusum said.