One Little Widow
by Mosaics From
Seven years a widow, yet only eleven years old! The shadow—nay, the
curse—of widowhood had hung over little Sita ever since she remembered
anything. The little brown girl often wondered why other little girls
living near her had such happy, merry times while she knew only drudgery
and ill treatment from morning until night. One day when six of the weary
years had passed, and she was ten years old, Sita found out what widow
meant. Then, to the cruelties she had already endured, was added the
terrors of the woe to come. She had gone, as usual, in her tattered
garments, with three large brass water-pots on her head, to the great open
well from which she drew the daily supply of water for a family of nine.
She was so tired, and her frail little back ached so pitifully, that she
sat down on a huge stone to rest a minute. Resting her weary head on one
thin little hand, she was a picture of childish woe. Many deep sorrows had
fallen on her young heart, but she was still a child in mind and years,
yearning for companionship and love.
Many Brahman servants were drawing water near her, and looked bright and
happy in their gay-colored cotton saris. A woman so poor that she must
draw her own drinking-water, but still a Brahman, came near, and to her
Sita appealed for help.
"Will you not draw a little water for me? I am ill and tired, and the well
is very deep."
The woman turned angrily, and uttered, in a scathing tone, the one word,
"Widow!" then she burst out: "Curse you! How dare you come between me and
the glorious sun! Your shadow has fallen upon me, and I'll have to take the
bath of purification before I can eat food! Curse you! Stand aside!"
Poor Sita stood bewildered. She made no answer, but the tears coursed down
her cheeks. Something akin to pity made the woman pause. Halting at a safe
distance from the shadow of the child, she talked to her in a milder tone.
She was thinking, perhaps, of her two soft-eyed daughters, very dear to her
proud heart, though she mourned bitterly when they were born, because the
gods had denied her sons.
"Why should I help you," she said, "when the gods have cursed you? See, you
are a widow!"
Then, in answer to the child's vacant gaze, she continued: "Don't you
understand? Didn't you have a husband once?"
"Yes, I think so," Sita answered; "an old, bad man who used to shake me,
and tell me to grow up quickly to work for him; perhaps he was my husband.
When he died, they said I killed him, but I did not."
"So you call him bad?" the woman cried. "Ah, no wonder the gods hate you!
No doubt you were very wicked ages and ages ago, and so now you are made a
widow. By and by you will be born a snake or a toad." And, gathering up her
water-pots, she went away.
The slender, ill-fed child hurriedly filled the brass vessels, knowing that
abuse awaited her late return. Raising the huge jars to her head, she
hastened to her house—a home she never knew. The sister-in-law met the
little thing with violent abuse, and bade her prepare the morning meal. The
child was ill, and nearly fell with fatigue.
"I'll show you how to wake up!" the woman cried, and, seizing a hot poker,
she laid it on the arms and hands of the child.
Screaming with pain, the poor little creature worked on, trembling if the
sister-in-law even looked her way. This was one day. Each of the seven long
years contained three hundred and sixty-five such days, and now they were
growing worse. The last year, in token of the deep disgrace of widowhood,
the child's soft dark tresses had been shaved off, and her head left bare.
When that has been done, but one meal a day is permitted a widow, no matter
how she works.
Most of the little girls who saw Sita ran from her, fearing pollution. But
there was one who shone on her like a gleam of sunshine whenever she saw
her. One day after the woman had abused her at the well, Sita found a
chance to tell Tungi about it.
"There is a better God than that," Tungi said. "Our people do not know him,
and that is why I am not allowed to talk with you. I am married, and my
husband lives in a distant city. If I speak to you, they believe that he
will die. But in the school I attend, many do not believe these things."
"How can you go to school?" Sita asked. "My sister-in-law says that only
bad people learn to read."
"So my mother used to think," said Tungi; "but my husband is in school, and
he has sent word that I must go until he calls for me to come to his home.
Then he can have a wife who can understand when he talks about his books.
He says the English have happy families, and it is this that makes them so.
The wives know books, and how to sing, and how to make home pleasant. My
mother says it is all very bad, but he is my husband, and I must do as he
says. I am very glad; for it is very pleasant there."
Thus the bright-eyed little Brahman wife chatted away, as gay as a bird.
The fount of knowledge was opened to her—the beaming eye, the elastic
figure, and the individuality of her Western sisters were becoming hers.
But none of these things seemed for Sita.
For nine weary months after Tungi went to school, the shaven-headed child,
living on one meal a day, went about sad and lonely. When she again saw her
bright-faced little friend, her condition had grown worse. Her neck and
arms were full of scars where bits of flesh had been pinched out in
vindictive rage by her husband's relatives, who believed her guilty of his
death. Brutality, growing stronger with use, made them callous to the
sufferings of the little being in their power. No one who cared knew of the
pangs of hunger, the violent words, and the threats of future punishment.
Once or twice she had looked down into the cool depths of the well, and
wondered how quickly she could die. Only the terror of punishment after
death kept this baby widow from suicide.
One day as she was weeping by the gateway of Tungi's house, the little
child wife told the little child widow of a safe refuge for such as she,
where neither poverty nor ignorance could exclude her—a home under the
loving care of one who knew the widow's curse. After many difficulties,
Sita found this shelter. Here she forgot her widowhood, and found her
childhood. Here, in the beautiful garden, or at her lessons, helping with
cooking, or leaning lovingly on the arms of Ramabai's chair, she passed
many sweet and useful years. By and by she found the greatest joy in love,
higher and better than human love can ever be. Later, when a beautiful
young womanhood had crowned her, she was sought by an earnest young
Christian as his wife.
Many of the millions of the child widows in India never find release from
the bonds of cruel custom and false religion. In Hinduism there is no hope
for such accursed ones.—"Mosaics From India," published by Fleming H.