‘The World Before Her’

How easy is it to label something as ‘liberal’ or ‘regressive’? Mostly, it isn’t as black and white as one hope. The whole phenomenon is quite grey and is tangled with contradictions. The Indian Canadian writer and director Nisha Pahuja explores these ironies in her critically acclaimed documentary ‘The World before Her’. The documentary follows the journeys of two young Indian women from two very different Indias. Nineteen-year-old Ruhi Singh from Jaipur left home to be a Miss India contestant and 24-year-old Prachi Trivedi, home-schooled on Hindu Parishad, is a veteran of 42 Durga Vahini camps in Aurangabad that train young Hindu girls to hate Muslims, Christians, and Western culture.

The Durga Vahini is the women’s wing of the radical Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal. It trains its members to be skilled in martial arts and weaponry and to be guardians of Hindutva. The girls are made capable of defending themselves and their religion. The camp teaches them the ‘dangers of westernization’. They have mentors who tell them a woman should never abandon her home in the name of a career and should be married off at 18 before she becomes ‘too mature to tame’. They also believe that gender equality is against Indian culture and a fad they must not indulge in. On the other hand, the Miss India training session encourages its contestants to be confident and embrace their sensuality. Here professionals train them to walk, talk and look a certain way that fits their idea of perfection. These women believe that it is important to change with the times. They pride themselves on being open-minded and believe they represent the ‘Modern Indian Woman’. Pahuja smoothly establishes the cynical machinery of the state. Prachi’s father is cheerfully antagonistic and is very open about teaching kids about the ‘bad guys’ of the country – Christians and Muslims.

 I get hurt with what these girls are taught in these so-called Hindu Parishad camps. Women are not animals who are supposed to be tamed and marriage at an early age brings mental as well as physical agony. Moreover, I feel that these pageants are just about external beauty and I firmly believe that ‘simple living and high thinking’ makes a woman beautiful. As the film progresses it hits me that these two worlds are more similar than one had imagined. The lines between regressive and progressive start to blur when the two worlds are juxtaposed to showcase their inner workings. On both sides, one sees elements of the notion that they are trying to fight against. While Prachi is repulsed by the idea of marriage, Ruhi wants to achieve things before she finds a husband and settles down. Though the Hindu Parishad is her life, in Prachi’s ‘regressive’ world she wants to rebel, to be independent, and to be the marker of her journey. She likes being in power though this is contrary to what she’s been taught, “I like when other girls are scared of me” she says. And in Ruhi’s ‘liberal’ environment, there are several moments that made me cringe like when a young contestant is coaxed into getting a Botox shot because her face isn’t symmetrical enough though she’s clearly uncomfortable with it. One can only hope that someday, Prachi’s father can see what makes her happy.

In the pursuit of sons, 750000 girls are deliberately aborted in India every year. Throughout the film, the disturbing patterns that emerge on both sides remind us that both men and women are equally responsible for the caretaking of patriarchy. When a female lecturer at the Durga Vahini camp criticizes Bollywood actresses for wearing ‘skimpy’ clothes on screen or in the persistence of the plastic surgeon, she is policing women’s bodies. You see the same when Prachi’s father insists she gets married because according to him womanhood is only attained by being a mother. When the Pageant director makes the models walk the ramp with white cloaks over their torsos so they can be judged solely on their legs, you also see this in the sickening excitement with which he says “I’ve always wanted to try this.”

The fact that Ruhi’s parents are proud of their daughter and offer her unconditional support and freedom to accomplish her dreams shows us exactly where the change can come from. From home. Maybe Nisha is trying to say that The World before Her is always a product of the world behind her. This movie is especially relevant at a time when the country is witnessing the rise of both these contrasting movements almost simultaneously; the fight to stick to tradition and the move to embrace modernization. Moreover, we need to understand that wearing jeans, speaking English, eating burger is not Americanisation. As the film nears its end it dawns on me that both these women are caught in systems designed by men, which promises to ‘empower’ them but is just an excuse to mould them in a way that benefits patriarchy. Ultimately, these women can be truly empowered only when they have the freedom of choice and not just an illusion of it.

Women form about half of the population of the country, but their situation has been grim. For centuries, they have been deliberately denied the opportunities for growth in the name of religion and socio-cultural practices. At the social-political plain, women suffered from the denial of freedom even in their homes, repression and unnatural indoctrination, an unequal and inferior status, rigid caste hierarchy and even untouchability. Religious tradition and social institutions have a deep bearing on the role and status of women. A study shows that 76 per cent of both men and women tend to think of men as being better suited for careers and women as more appropriate to be homemakers. Yes, there’s a wind of change but we still have a long way to go.

“The World Before Her”, YouTube, 6 June, 2014

Hereunder is the link to the trailor of the movie. All Copyrights belong to the Original Owners the same has been reproduced here only for the purpose of reference. No copyright infringement is intended.

Image Source: Cinestaan

Aishwarya Says:

I have always been against Glorifying Over Work and therefore, in the year 2021, I have decided to launch this campaign “Balancing Life”and talk about this wrong practice, that we have been following since last few years. I will be talking to and interviewing around 1 lakh people in the coming 2021 and publish their interview regarding their opinion on glamourising Over Work.

If you are interested in participating in the same, do let me know.

Do follow me on FacebookTwitter  Youtube and Instagram.

The copyright of this Article belongs exclusively to Ms. Aishwarya Sandeep. Reproduction of the same, without permission will amount to Copyright Infringement. Appropriate Legal Action under the Indian Laws will be taken.

If you would also like to contribute to my website, then do share your articles or poems at adv.aishwaryasandeep@gmail.com

We also have a Facebook Group Restarter Moms for Mothers or Women who would like to rejoin their careers post a career break or women who are enterpreneurs.

We are also running a series Inspirational Women from January 2021 to March 31,2021, featuring around 1000 stories about Indian Women, who changed the world. #choosetochallenge

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