INDIA, VRINDAVAN: Indian widows wave sparklers as they participate in a celebration for the Hindu festival Diwali on the banks of the Yamuna river in the northern city of Vrindavan on October 21, 2014. The women, who chanted as they walked through the streets of Vrindavan to mark the Hindu festival of Diwali, are widows who have left or been abandoned by their families. Until recently, they were kept hidden from society and all but forbidden to celebrate. But that is now changing, and local residents cheered the women on as they passed through the streets of the temple-filled town, many proudly wearing brand new saris gifted by a local organisation. AFP PHOTO / ROBERTO SCHMIDT
Diwali, or Dipawali, is India’s biggest and most important holiday of the year. On this day, people light up diyas and candles all around their house to drive away the darkness of Amavasya. They perform Laxmi Puja in the evening and seek divine blessings of the Goddess of Wealth. The festival of Diwali is never complete without exchange of gifts. People present diwali gifts to their loved ones.The exact day of the festival is decided by the position of the moon. Over the centuries, Diwali has become a national festival that is enjoyed by most Indians regardless of faith: Hindus, Jains, Buddhists, and Sikhs. North India celebrates the story of King Rama’s return to Ayodhya after he defeated Ravana by lighting rows of clay lamps. South India celebrates it as the day that Lord Krishna defeated the demon Narakasura. In western India the festival marks the day that Lord Vishnu, the Preserver (one of the main gods of the Hindu trinity), sent the demon King Bali to rule the nether world. On the first day of Diwali, housewives consider it auspicious to spring clean the home and shop for gold or kitchen utensils. On the second day, people decorate their homes with clay lamps or diyas and create design patterns called rangoli on the floor using colored powders or sand.This is the main day of the festival when families gather together for Lakshmi puja, a prayer to Goddess Lakshmi followed by mouth-watering feasts and firework festivities.This also is the first day of the new year when friends and relatives visit with gifts and best wishes for the season. On the last day of Diwali, brothers visit their married sisters who welcome them with love and a lavish meal.
Women make up just one percent of Afghanistan’s police force, and are often harassed and discriminated against by male colleagues. Police inspector Shakti Devi is working to change that culture and empower female officers. Devi works to secure justice for survivors of sexual and physical violence and established Women’s Police Councils where female officers can seek professional support.
For her efforts, Devi, who is originally from India, was awarded the 2014 International Female Peacekeeper Award. “Women must realize the essence of liberty and dignity. It is imperative for women to be aware of their inherent strength to fight all social, economic, political and all other adversities,” she said.