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Filmmaker Nupur Basu Tells Story
of India's Unwanted Girls
|by Madhusree Chatterjee|
Vaijanti, a young woman from Agra, found her married life turning into a nightmare when a sex scan showed a second girl child in her womb. Her in-laws insisted she terminate the pregnancy. She left her husband's home.
She is the protagonist of independent filmmaker Nupur Basu's "No Country for Young Girls", a 25-minute documentary on female feticide and the status of women in India. The movie is part of the BBC documentary series, "Life on the Edge" that was telecast this month.
Basu, a former journalist, takes the 27-year-old Vaijanti to places across India where daughters are a curse. The latter discovers that patriarchy prevails and a family without a son is considered incomplete even in the educated echelons of society.
Vaijanti understands it only too well. After all, after moving out of her husband's house, Vaijanti gave birth to her younger daughter in her mother's house. She moved court against her husband and in-laws, alleging intimidation and the fact that they had piled pressure on her to kill her unborn daughter.
Her days were endless rounds of the court premises - discussions with lawyers, activists and counsellors until she embarked on the journey with Basu.
Basu, her crew and the protagonist, the loveless Vaijanti, who resides barely one kilometer from the monument of love Taj Mahal, probe the gravity and nuances of the problem across urban India where the ratio of girls to boys is on an alarming slide.
Numbers cite that one million unborn girls are butchered every year after sex scans in violation of the 1994 Prohibition of Sex Selection Act, also known as the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques Act.
An estimate says the national average sex ratio is 933 girls for every 1,000 boys and if Women and Child Development Minister Renuka Chowdhury is to be believed, "the nation is going to face an unimaginable crisis because of the nationwide shortage of girls".
She admits in the film that the situation is "very, very grave".
"The next census is going to be horrific. In Delhi alone, the sex ratio is 820 girls to every 1,000 boys," Nupur told IANS in a chat in the capital.
Nupur, who has four documentaries on issues concerning women to her credit, chose feticide because of the conspiracy of silence surrounding it - almost like that of AIDS.
"I was told to make an India film, and I had been ruminating on feticide for a long time. We have an ostrich-like approach to it, pretending it does not exist," said the filmmaker, who has put in 12 years at the NDTV as senior editor covering social and development issues.
History says the ancient Aryan invaders practiced female infanticide. According to scriptures, women and the girl child could not adjust to their nomadic way of life.
The Vedas are full of prayers for male children. "Let a female child be born somewhere else; here, let a male child be born," says a shloka in Atharva Veda (6.23)
Basu blames the persisting problem on lack of political will. "Why does the law exist?" she lashes out, "when female feticide is so common and organized? Technology meant to check the health of the child is used for killing it in connivance with the medical community and influential civil and social groups."
Nupur visits Vaijanti's home where her mother breaks down; zooms in on her two young daughters; and meets at least 20 other women from the neighborhood who have similar stories to share.
"We all know of Haryana, but the situation in Agra is abysmal," she says.
She drags Vaijanti out of her cloister, takes her on a 12-hour train ride to Ganganagar in Rajasthan where she is joined by a feisty Sikh woman, Jasbir Kaur, who dared to defy her in-laws and divorce her husband to bring up her three daughters.
"They are 14 now and go to school. Jasbir works as a nurse to support. Her face glows - she has no regrets," Nupur tells of the smiling woman, the "role model".
From Ganganagar, the camera rolls to the Silicon Valley of Bangalore where Nupur and Vaijanti meet the power women of info-tech companies. "Even in the info-tech industry, women are harassed for bearing daughters and for not bringing adequate dowry," say a group of women at MindTree.com, a software solutions firm.
In the process, Vaijanti experiences freedom. She bogies the night away at a dance club, travels across the heart of India and finally wings her way through the clouds in an airplane to Sabarmati Ashram - the cradle of Mahatma Gandhi's "Ahimsa and Satyagraha (truth and non-violence) movement".
She is almost moved to tears when she hears the father of the nation say - on tape - in support of the girl child: "As they say in English. She is not the half, but the better half."
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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