The word 'widow' was almost unknown and incomprehensible to me until my father died. I was just 10 years old. It was agonising to see how my mother - until then a happy, contented wife and a loving mother to four sons and three daughters - was, even in her traumatised state, made to take off her bangles, remove her bindi and wear white clothes. My father's passing away had shut her out from the world, it seemed.
There was more to come. At my wedding, in the midst of the rituals, my mother was asked to leave. It was said that being a widow she would bring bad luck to me in my married life. That was the most difficult moment for me. I went through various emotions; pain, anguish, anger and a feeling of frustration. How could my mother who had brought me up with so much care and love be unlucky for me?
Fortunately for us, my father, who was a successful and affluent businessman, had left enough money. My mother spent it educating all of us at the best institutions and she sent me to America for higher studies. But after the marriage of my three sisters there was little money left. There was nothing that I could do if I returned home to Punjab. Instead I went to Great Britain where my elder brother was settled. It was the beginning of a long fight to find my feet.
I did everything, mopping floors, driving ice-cream vans and selling garments from temporary wayside stalls. My mother's blessings, I am sure, helped me. My business ventures succeeded and I was on the way to establishing a successful fashion business in the UK.
But I remained restless. Why had my mother been made to transform from a woman into a widow? Why was it believed that she would bring bad luck to me? It also struck me: what if my father had not been prosperous and had left us no money? My mother would not have been able to send us to college or give us nutritious food and good clothes to wear. The images and the state of poor widows and their children I had seen in my younger days all came rushing back to me. It was troubling. If I had been the son of a poor widow, I would not have been living in London overseeing a major export company. I would have grown-up an illiterate man, possibly plying a Rickshaw in some suburban town in Punjab.
Shockingly, there are now 258 million widows around the world, 115 million of whom live in poverty struggling to survive. These women continue to face double discrimination not only on the grounds of being a woman but also in losing their financial security, social status and dignity when their husband dies. When a woman becomes a widow she doesn't just lose the one she loves, she often loses everything, making her and her children even more vulnerable.
What's more, worldwide each widow has an average of three children and six family members, meaning that this issue doesn't just affect 258 million; the reality is that more than a billion people are disadvantaged, through no fault of their own. Devastatingly, 1.5million widows' children in the world die before their fifth birthday.
Raising awareness and tackling this intersecting discrimination is at the heart of the Loomba Foundation and International Widows Day. But with so much unrest and tragedy in the world, it can seem easier to continue to sweep this issue under the carpet. Today I ask you to do the opposite - to share the message around the world that this cannot continue. For too long, the plight of widows and their families has been ignored, not talked about, not acted upon. Let's change that together.
For more information please visit www.theloombafoundation.orgSuggest a correction