Dr. Giri, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Speaks at the University of New England
October 27, 2005
by Laura Slap-Shelton, Psy.D.
Dr. Mohini V. Giri addressed a standing room only crowd of approximately 200 at the University of New England (UNE) in Biddeford, Maine on October 27, 2005. Her appearance was co-hosted by GriefandRenewal.Com and UNE’s Office of Multicultural Studies and Women’s Studies Departments. As people were coming into the lecture, excerpts from White Rainbow, the new film about widows in Vrindavan, were playing. Dr. Giri opened her talk noting that what happens to women in India is relevant to people in America, particularly as technology brings us all closer together. Throughout the talk she emphasized the global importance of the problems faced by the widows and other marginalized women. Using a power point presentation she reviewed the status of widows in India. Her first person portrayal of what happens to a woman when she is widowed brought home to the audience, mostly female, the reality of the Indian woman’s plight when her husband dies. Dr. Giri described the transformation of a vibrant woman to a non-person. “Imagine in front of a group of my relatives as large as this one”, she said, “my bangles are smashed, my hair is shaved, my bindi removed.” She went on to state that widows are allowed only one meal a day and are not allowed to eat food with spices. They are forced to wear white saris. Saddest of all is that they are often removed from their children and families, and abandoned. She described how the Guild of Service has been helping to connect the widows to their now grown children in recent years. Showing pictures of widows in different Guild of Service homes,
Dr. Giri and Dr. Slap-Shelton at fund raising breakfast
she described three types of widows: religious widows, war widows, and riot widows. The audience responded to her talk with questions about the legal protections for widows vs. society’s practices, the technology boom in India, widowhood in cities vs. rural areas, child brides and widows, AIDS, and even Indira Ghandi. Dr. Giri reported on several pieces of legislation she introduced to parliament which will help widows in her country, but emphasized the need for the culture and particularly men’s attitudes to change so that the laws will be enforced. Pointing out that even in the United States only a small percentage of women are in Congress, she spoke about her goal of having a mandate to have 33 percent of India’s Parliament allocated to women. In discussing women in leadership, Dr. Giri noted that she is the daughter-in-law of one of India’s presidents and could have accepted a ministerial position in the government. Instead she chose a path of leadership which allowed her to follow her heart “and bring many women along with her.”
Dr. Mohini Giri
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