Forget Sex in the City … Try Being Single in India

ENSS Padyata Celebration

Every day in India, 12 women will die in “bridal burning,” the murder of a woman for an inadequate dowry or to allow the husband to remarry. Despite the obvious perils of marriage, Indian women who aren’t married can suffer an almost worst fate. Because they challenge the ideal of a properly married woman, they’re viewed as being sexually loose, inauspicious, and even dangerous. Older widows are neglected and abused, and younger single women (widowed, divorced, abandoned, never married, or fleeing domestic abuse) are often thrown out of both their in-laws and their own parents’ home – with their children. Economically at risk and socially ostracized, single women also have no access to health care, pensions, ration cards, public sector jobs, and government aid.

Well, they’re mad as hell and they’re not taking it anymore. Yes, the single women of Himachal Pradesh, a hilly state in northwest India, south of Kashmir at the base of the Himalayas, decided to stand up and say, “No more!” They started ENSS (the Association of Empowered Single Women) in 2005  and today 6059 dues-paying members are making it their cause to force the state legislature to recognize single women’s rights for social justice and dignity.

Himachal Pradesh countryside

On April 8, 2008, over 2700 ENSS single women, aged 20 to 90 from every caste and class, marched for three days to present their demands at the state capital of Simla… and thanks to their grassroots activism, significant advances were made. But the ENSS’s major initiative– to convince the government to grant single women  leases to land of their own, has been unsuccessful. Are these women taking no for an answer? Absolutely not.

ENSS Protest March

The current goal of ENSS is to prove to the government the wisdom of empowering single women to create sustainable, independent lives – through a ten-acre community test project. ENSS will purchase 10 acres of land and develop  five 2-acre plots for one older and one younger woman, each  subsistence farmers. The duo will  be given 1 cow and a small house, raise their own food, and sell extra produce at market to provide additional essentials. By showing the value of empowering single women to regain dignity, respect and economic independence through work, ENSS is committed to changing legislativepolicy.

At a district meeting, a member of ENSSThese single women of India are only asking for the chance to create nya sasural ( a family of one’s own), and they’re willing to be awfully courageous and indomitable to realize that dream. And that’s worth $100 to me.