A photofeature by Azizur Rahim Peu
The Sundarbans, cover 38,500 sq km, is the world's largest salt-tolerant mangrove forest. Its name literally translates to "beautiful forest", and it is inhabited by about three million people who explore this dangerous terrain for survival.
The Habitat of the famous Royal Bengal Tiger, the Sundarbans is also home to "widows" called "Bidhobas". Each year, men killed inside the forest while fishing or gathering palm leaves and honey leave behind their wives to fend for themselves and their children. Labeled as "opoya", meaning unlucky ones, these women are a taboo subject and become non-existent to the whole world. Ostracised by society, their likelihood of their remarrying is very slim.
Turned out of home with nothing to fall back on, hundreds of such women initially attempt begging. Many end up as prostitutes while the more fortunate ones find access to neighbouring "Bidhobapallis", sanctuaries for women banished from their first homes because their husbands have been killed by tigers and other predators.
Each of the 12 widow villages in and around the Sundarbans houses around 50 to 100 of such dislocated families.
For these social outcasts, every single day is an ordeal for survival. These widows, landless and living below the poverty line, have to buy sustenance or depend on their neighbours' generosity.
Most of these "unlucky" women and their children work as household help or day labourers in paddy and salt fields. A few venture into the creeks to catch fish or collect prawn fries, earning up to a dollar a day. Their work is strenuous and back-breaking but at least it pays for their sustenance.
With no access to rehabilitation, there is scant hope for these women. Even their children are deprived of basic human rights.
For some, the future is far away and insecure. For these plighted ones even the present seems to be far more insecure and vague.
Azizur Rahim Peu had worked in Daily Ittefaq for nearly two decades and is currently working as freelance photographer. He is one of the founder/director of DrikNEWS.