About halfway through Nisha Pahuja’s 2012 documentary The World Before Her, there is a scene that is deeply disturbing. The footage, which appears to have been captured on a cellphone, cuts to the dark interior of a bar where several women are being slapped and shoved violently by a mob of angry men through the bar to its entrance. Outside, in broad daylight and as a crowd gathers, the mob continues to strike the women, knocking one of them to the ground while a voice-over comments that two of the women had to be hospitalized. The women’s offence? They were having a drink. My stomach churned at the thought of it but even more so when I realized that the men, complete strangers, felt it not only their right, but their duty to beat those women for behaving ‘inappropriately’.
The scene takes place in India. As a Canadian woman, I can’t even imagine witnessing such a scene. In fact, watching the footage made me feel ashamed of the times I’ve complained about a man eyeballing me on the subway or a colleague joking that I run “like a girl.” I have never been in fear for my life because of my gender. So, while The World Before Her shocked and appalled me, I think that, at times, it is necessary for us to be shocked and appalled in order to move us from complacency.
In the last year, we’ve been hearing more and more about the rampant gang rapes in India. Only a few days ago, another woman came forward to say that her village council ordered her to be gang raped as punishment for having a relationship with a man of a different religion. Both the news coverage and the scene from The World Before Her paint a clear picture that in this day and age, women in India are still second-class citizens – a message that is not initially clear in Pahuja’s film.
The film, depicting two opposing realities of being a woman in India, seems to set up the conflict between the ‘modern’ woman and the ‘traditional’ woman. The former is represented by 20 young women vying for the title of Miss India. The latter is represented by the next generation of Hindu nationalists (presented as religious extremists): fresh faced young woman who are trained to to believe in their own subjugation as easily as to shoot a gun. But by the end of the film, the conflict is not between the women but rather how each group is used and dominated by the men around them. Prachi Trivedi, one of the youth leaders at the Durga Vahini camps, sits and laughs as her father talks of teaching her a lesson by burning her with a metal rod. Miss India’s Pooja Chopra reflects on how her father wanted her mother to kill her at birth. And, in the end the only optimistic futures these women have is to marry and have a boy child, to become an international star (in Pooja’s case), or to die as a martyr. The entire film is disturbing, but it is an important film to watch.
Pahuja is a Canadian filmmaker and her film has gotten a lot of circulation in this country. But now she is turning her attention to the root of the problem: India. I urge you to view the movie and to go to her website at www.worldbeforeher.com to find out about the current campaign underway in India to “creat[e] a movement around the film involving key players in women’s rights, politics, education, media and entertainment. Powerful people can change public consciousness and that in turn can mean policy change at the government level.”
“The Hindu Right is both powerful and violent and with the growing popularity of PM candidate Narendra Modi, their strength and confidence is growing. Few people in India know about the Durga Vahini camps featured in the film and the Hindu right would like to keep it that way. We’ve been warned to expect “repercussions.” But that is another reason we HAVE to get the film out —to expose the hatred being taught in those camps under the guise of Patriotism.
We understand the risks we’re taking as does our distributor, but we also know that to do nothing is simply not an option. An India led by a Hindu nationalist is not only a threat to peace in the country, but also dangerous for women and for religious minorities. The ramifications are potentially global.”
You can also support us through Women Make Movies our unwavering and fantastic fiscal sponsor. Just click on the link below: http://www.wmm.com/filmmakers/sponsored_projects.aspx?cmd=uz&id=1#2557
We need to value women around the world and help people like Nisha Pahuja spread the word.
- Announcing fbb Femina Miss India 2014 auditions in city (teamatul.wordpress.com)
- The World Before Her (mykayskorner.wordpress.com)
- India village councils under fresh scrutiny after gang rape (vancouverdesi.com)
- Grammar of gender relations in India (thehindu.com)