The Hari Putar Dialogues - 68
(BBC News ; Kathmandu ; 20 July : Widows in Nepal are protesting against a decision by the Nepalese government to offer a cash incentive to men for marrying them. The incentive was announced in the government's annual budget earlier this week - it is a lump sum of 50,000 Nepali rupees ($641). Nepal has a large number of widows because of the bloody conflict there in recent years as well as the high rates of HIV and other diseases found in the country. But human rights groups in Nepal say that paying men to marry widows would only bring further misery.
"It's totally wrong," says Lily Thapa, founder of Women for Human Rights.
"Widows will not be empowered by getting remarried," she says. Women for Human Rights represents Nepali widows and has officially lodged a protest with the government asking it to rethink its policy. Ms Thapa says she is encouraged by the government's recognition of the plight of widows but emphasizes that this policy could do more harm than good. )
Putar: There is a BBC report today about protests by widows and representative organizations in Nepal about the Governments decision to offer a cash incentive to men for marrying them.
Hari: Are there many widows in Nepal?
Putar: Yes, of course. The years of Maoist insurgency resulted in many deaths. So there are thousands of widows in Nepal.
Hari: What kind of cash incentive is this? How much money?
Putar: This is a lump sum of Rs 50,000 that will be paid to the man.
Hari: So why are the women protesting? Wouldn't some of them at least like to get married again?
Putar: The women argue that men may now want to get married to them for the wrong reasons.
Hari: You mean for the money.
Putar: Exactly. For instance widows like 29-year-old Nisha Swar, whose husband was killed by Maoist fighters six years ago, say the policy of offering payment for remarriage could lead to discrimination. "Men could want to be with us for the sake of getting the 50,000 rupees. It is like putting a price tag on our head and we are very humiliated by this," she says.
Hari: That may be true, but the same is true for dowry as well. Paying dowry in Nepal is common, isn't it?
Putar: It has been banned by the Government but continues to exist. I'm sure the women who are protesting are opposed to dowry as well.
Hari: That's all very well that some men may be lured to marry the widows because of the cash incentive, but on the other hand a man may wish to marry a widow, but may worry about the financial expenses this may involve. If he is going to shoulder the additional responsibilities of the widow and that of her children from her previous marriage ' assuming she's poor and not working ' some cash incentive might help make the decision easy for him.
Putar: That may have been the Government's original idea. It hasn't appealed to the widows though. According to the report 30-year-old widow Poonam Pathak points out: "I feel embarrassed because now anybody walking on the road could say, look, there's a widow! I could get 50,000 rupees if I married her."
Hari: That's true. It's as if she were a cash cow.
Putar: The women's organizations point out that they should have been consulted at the very least.
Hari: Also true. They could have provided that the money will be given to the widow if she marries ' or divided equally. That way she would have had some control of the money.
Putar: But what is the need for the widows to be given money only upon marriage? Then poor widows may then get married only because of the cash incentive ' even if they don't like the man so much.
Hari: I think this cash incentive system is a bad move in a country like Nepal. It's not as though there is a need to increase the population of the country.
Putar: That's true.
Hari: They should just use the money to help the widows.
Putar: There is already a Government scheme for widows above the age of sixty. According to research most widows are still young and they need help because they have small children and they need money to pay school fees and take care of them.
Hari: It does look like there are better ways for the Government to help widows that this cash incentive for men who marry widows.
Putar: Tell me something, Papaji.
Hari: Bol, Putar?
Putar: Supposing that at some future date in a country like India or Nepal there came to be a large population of young widowers.
Hari: That's unlikely ' unless there was some disease that only affected women. It's the men who get killed off in wars.
Putar: Agreed, but suppose this is the case.
Hari: All right.
Putar: Would any Government offer women money to marry those widowers?
Hari: Unlikely. There is no stigma associated with being a widower like there is with being a widow. So the widowers will find partners easily, as long as they have other qualities that may attract women.
Putar: But if the Government did offer a cash incentive to women who married such widowers would women be tempted to marry such men?
Putar: Is that because women are less greedy?
Putar: Or is it because women are more far sighted. Instead of a one time payment the women would look to the ability of the man to regularly produce money?
Hari: I don't know, Putar.