India’s Forgotten Women

Every 34 minutes in India a woman is raped, but for the handful of cases that ever make it to court, only 5% are ever prosecuted.

This month a shocking new documentary, directed by Michael Lawson, sheds light on the exploitation and oppression faced by India’s Dalit women due to their gender, class and position at the bottom of the cruel caste system-a centuries-old hierarchy of social class in to which individuals are born.

Inspired by the 2006 Academy Award® nominee for Best Foreign Language film, Water, this documentary tells the story of some of the 20 million Indian widows who are abandoned by their families and literally turned out into the streets when their husbands died. Water was a fictional recounting of this terrible tradition, set in 1938. The Forgotten Woman is true, and happening today.

Filmed in the towns and villages of Hyderabad, Bengalaru, Belgaum and Mumbai, Anjali Guptara, presenter of the documentary, takes us in to the homes and communities of these women, outlining the issues they face on a daily basis due to India’s ancient yet regimental caste system, which decides their fate before they have even been born.

Through interviews and astonishing footage, Anjali unearths the hidden lives of the Dalit women subject to brutal domestic violence, dowry crime, rape, sex selective abortion, female infanticide, bonded labour, temple prostitution and human trafficking.

She explains, ‘One of the main problems with the issues that we cover is that people think they are historical problems, perhaps even legends and myths.’ The film explores issues of sexual violence with stories of rape by men of higher caste, of police turning a blind eye and the legacy of depression and suicide that follows.

Kishwar Desai, a campaigner for women’s rights in India and author of Witness the Night said, ‘There is a complicity of corruption between the police, judicial system, politicians, media and the uncivil society.’

Presenter Anjali with just a handful of the millions of young girls doomed by their class, caste and gender.

Perhaps most disturbing are the scenes of temple prostitution, officially outlawed in 1988, where girls as young as four are sold to priests by desperate parents for financial exchange. By the time these girls are twelve they are used as prostitutes.

Lawson, the film’s producer, director, composer and cameraman added, ‘For growing, economically successful India, in public the Dalits are an embarrassment. In private, the exploitation continues as it has for centuries.’

In the world’s largest democracy, this treatment of women is a contradiction in its highest form. By uncovering the truth, Pipe Village Trust, a small UK film making human rights charity, gives these Dalit women of India a voice, but insists that it is how viewers choose to respond that will determine how long the terrible suffering continues.

How does this make you feel as a woman? Do you think it is our responsibility to fight for women’s rights in India?

Incidently, while the documentary focuses on Dalit women, we would be astounded if we dig deeper. The level of abuse is just slightly lower than this in case of women around the country, including urban women. Most incident of abuse are just shoved under the carpet in the name of family honour. Tools like Domestic Violence Act, Sex Determination, etc are utilised scantily. Isn’t it time India treats its women better?


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Roshni
    Jul 08, 2010 @ 16:42:41

    Water was an epic in Indian cinema. However, not many have been willing to come forth and accept it. Rather people blamed it for tarnishing India’s image, just like the initial response which Slumdog Millionaire received.
    Hopefully, this documentary will change the way we look at own women. A large reason for why Indian women suffer in their own existence is because us women accept chauvanistic ways of living as the ultimate truth. However, they fail to realise that just like religion, chauvinism is also a human creation — a figment of our mind which has over the years become a global social mindset.
    Just because it is there, it doesn’t mean that it is right.
    As a muslim or a sikh or a parsi, how it feels to be a minority. In the same way, ask a woman how it feels to be a minority. But a good part is, unlike the religious sects, women accept they are the weaker sex and this fact by many women has been utilised to emerge as stronger human beings. They are not scared to accept their physical weakness vis-a-vis men. They are willing to accept their mistakes and work on it — HR vouches that percentage to be higher in women!!

    Still, yes still, women face all sorts of abuse not just at work/etc but at homes. Domestic violence is a normal and even accepted occurance at our homes. Shame on men. And at times it even feels right to make them suffer with 498a. Yes, even if it is misused.
    True two wrongs don’t make a right. But then who says the world is fair anyways.



  2. Being an Indian Woman
    Jul 08, 2010 @ 17:14:26


    I am not sure what you are hoping that this documentary would achieve. Do you think us Indians don’t know this truth very well? Well, we all do. Even the men who are so-called abused by women know that what they are saying is not the truth. Their inability to get a relationship working is not to blamed on their wives, rather it is a point of self-assessment. But then, who are we kidding hoping for something like this.

    Metrosexuality is a fad and only worn as a prized collar by a limited segment of upper middle class men. Limited men would ever truly accept it. To give an example, most who shave off their chest hair are not actually metrosexual. They are just highlighting a notion to remain in the right circles.

    I agree with you that a big reason for why Indian women suffer in their own existence is because us women accept chauvanistic ways of living as the ultimate truth .

    If you are interested in documentaries, please try and find Born to Bondage which gave an overview of the traditional roles of Indian women. It was released in the year 1999 if I recall correctly. And what had hit me the hardest about it was “In my next life I want to be born a boy.”

    Be strong, self reliant and take responsibility for your actions is what is the right path for us.

    Good luck!


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