Sunday Magazine ~~ August 24 2008
Love in the time of foeticide K.S. DAKSHINA MURTHY
Nupur Basu on her latest documentary that exposes the conspiracy of silence and consensus around female foeticide.
“I thought of attacking the very symbol of love and show how loveless India has become.” NUPUR BASU
Protesting injustice: Nupur Basu with her protagonist Vaijanti (Reena Mohan)
The Taj Mahal, the symbol of eternal love. And Agra, the most sought after tourist spot in the country. Flip them around and the assiduously built myths crack. “Love” culminates within the boundaries of the Taj, while another reality, stark and sombre, takes over outside. Capturing this reality is filmmaker-journalist Nupur Basu in her latest documentary “No Country for Young Girls?”
The film is part of the “Life On the Edge” series, the third produced by Television Trust for Environment (TVE) for BBC World. The news channel premiered it on August 19. This is Nupur’s fifth documentary. Former Senior Editor with New Delhi Television (NDTV) for over a decade, Nupur Basu brought stories of the marginalised onto mainstream television with her reportage on farmers’ suicides from Anantapur to Wyanad, caste conflicts from Tirunelveli in Tamil Nadu to Mysore in Karnataka, the plight of children working in surface mines in Bellary and AIDS orphans in Rakai in Uganda, the aftermath of natural disasters in Gujarat, and from Geneva on why the target of “Health for All by 2000” failed to materialise.
“I chose the theme of foeticide because I found that a huge silence around it. The next census is going to reveal some shocking statistics on this, about how distorted the sex ratio has become. Yet we are living in denial,” said Nupur.
Behind the facade
Behind the façade of elitist liberalism and middle-class respectability is the conspiratorial silence and societal consensus that enable female foetuses to be aborted and mothers of girls to be relegated to a second class status beaten, shunned and isolated. “Talk to anyone from the woman who is working in your house to anyone outside. Sex selection is so rampant. Women, from the upper to the poorest classes feel pressure to bear sons. It has nothing to do with any one socio-economic group,” said Nupur.
To project this injustice, Nupur took the route less trodden. “I wanted to do it in a different way. So we decided to journey with a woman who was a victim of this social crime. I cast my net across India, across cities to find a character who would suit the film’s requirements.”
The film-maker zeroed in on 27 year-old Vaijanti, a quintessential Indian woman forced to leave her husband’s home as punishment for giving birth to three daughters. “Vaijanti lives just one km from the Taj Mahal. The film begins with what Vaijanti thought love was during the time of marriage and what love became eventually,” said Nupur.
Why Agra? “To millions, the Taj is a symbol of love. It has become a meaningless word. See what is happening to women today: killed for dowry, going through abortion after abortion or being abused for bearing girls. Where is love in all this? I thought of attacking the very symbol of love and show how loveless India has become. Vaijanti, sitting alone on the lovers’ bench in front of the Taj, reminded me of the powerful image of Princess Diana.”
“In documentaries we can examine issues more intuitively. When you see such films, you wonder why people clamour for fictional films when reality is more compelling. Vaijanti is real, her emotions are real. We are not giving her a script, she is writing the script as she goes along.”
In the film, Nupur journeys with Vaijanti across India, exposing her to other women and their circumstances. “From the poorest of poor women working in the streets of Delhi to the richest CEOs in India, she met them all. She wanted to see what the future held for her daughters. She wanted to know what her choices were,” pointed out Nupur.
“No Country for Young Girls?” is also about despair and hope. “There is this amazing woman in Rajasthan, Jasbir Kaur, who defied her in-laws and husband and gave birth to her triplets, all girls! Vaijanti was most inspired by her,” said Nupur.
So what is Vaijanti’s dilemma? “Her dilemma is: should she compromise and go back to her husband (she still has some love left for him) or fight for her divorce and bring up the girls on her own. She has passed her seventh standard and is from a poor family. The odds are stacked against her,” said Nupur.
Vaijanti travels from Agra to Delhi, to Ganganagar in Rajasthan, to the country’s IT capital Bangalore and then finally to Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati ashram in Gujarat. How did the journey impact Vaijanti? “She had hardly ever stepped out of Agra. The only other place she had been was to her grandmother’s place in Kota, Rajasthan. From upper class women in bars and discotheques to the women on the streets, everyone was so empathetic. There was tremendous solidarity shown by other women , it was so beautiful. We have to see how it is going to affect her, influence her,” Nupur said. The filmmaker intends keeping track of Vaijanti’s life. “We want to revisit her. We have plans…” she said.
Having cut a 21-minute film out of 28-hour footage, Nupur is now earmarking a longer version. “I want to release that on Violence Against Women Day in November,” she said.