Monday, January 23, 2012

Vrndavana widows make Oprah cry


It was a moment of pride for a certain well-know family in namma Chennai, or rather every citizen in Chennai, when Oprah Winfrey — in conversation with Barkha Dutt in far away Jaipur — spoke highly of Dr Mohini Giri’s work with widows.

Dr Mohini Giri, daughter-in-law of the former President of India, V.V. Giri, and the former Chairperson of the National Commission for Women, is mother to none other than Chennai-based businessperson V. V. Giri. Oprah, in her address at the Jaipur Literature Festival, spoke about the paradoxes that she confronted in India.

“On one hand there is a tradition of family and values and on the other these widows are thrown out of their homes by their own kith and kin. This doesn’t make sense to me,” said a baffled Oprah to Barkha. Oprah was alluding to the plight of the widows of Vrindavan who, condemned by their families, come to the holy city, waiting to die. In this sacred city of 16,000 widows, Dr Mohini Giri’s Maa Dham provides shelter to nearly 200 widows, protecting them from a life of poverty, sorrow and misery.

On the cold morning of January 19, Oprah met with Dr Mohini Giri in Vrindavan. Speaking to this newspaper from Delhi, the head of the Guild of Service, Mohini Giri, said, “I met Oprah at 8 am on January 19, in the streets of Vrindavan. We went to Bhajan Asanas, a place where marginalized women have been exploited for the past 200 years.

The condition of these women is pathetic. They sing the whole day for a meager reward of Rs 2 per day and a handful of rice. Oprah was appalled by what she saw and tears rolled down her face.” Dr Giri and Oprah then travelled to the doctor’s ashram — Maa Dham, where widows were given the dignity they deserved and were allowed to wear colourful clothes, bangles and even bindis.

“Oprah was happy to see these women and interacted with all of them. She then expressed a desire to work with me to empower these women,” said a soft-spoken Dr Giri. The Giri family in Chennai couldn’t be happier. While daughter-in-law, Jigyasa, a Kathak dancer, took to Facebook to show her pride, son, Giri, spoke to this newspaper about his mother.

“It is a paradox that while we cherish the unit of a family in this country, a woman, upon losing her husband, is immediately ostracized. My mother has been working for these women for the last 40 years and we are very proud of her,” he said.

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