Indian’s fight against child marriage in focus at Abu Dhabi fest

By Arpana, IANS,

Abu Dhabi : The spotlight was once again on India at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, courtesy a British filmmaker. Kim Longinotto in “Pink Saris” depicted the evils of child marriage and the caste conflict in the interiors of northern India – and a woman’s fight to bring about change.

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In her docu-drama shot in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Longinotto shows how families often marry off girls at a young age, how they are mistreated by their in-laws – physically abused by the husband and sometimes raped by the father-in-law – and how often caste conflict plays a villain for lovers.

The docu-drama evoked a mixed response from film buffs at the festival here.

Longinotto, who shot her documentary in Atarra near Banda in Uttar Pradesh, says she is not seeking any recognition for her film.

“My aim is to create awareness. I don’t want any awards or money,” Longinotto told IANS.

Produced by Channel 4 at a budget of 170,000 pounds, the film revolves around 50-year-old Sampat Pal, founder leader of a women vigilante group called ‘Gulabi Gang’ in Banda district.

A victim of child marriage, she left her village after being mistreated by her in-laws and now champions the cause of women’s liberation in her own unique way.

“Sampat is quite famous. All Sampat is trying to do is to bring change. Wherever Sampat goes, people assemble around her and listen to what she says. Everybody is scared of her,” said Longinotto.

Sampat’s characters reminded members of the audience of former police officer Kiran Bedi, who brought many changes in Tihar Jail in Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.

The director shows the problems of girls who are married off in their adolescence through Rampyari and Niranjan even though child marriage is illegal in India.

With Rekha and Renu, she shows caste conflicts affecting young lives.

Rekha, who belongs to a Dalit family, is in love with an upper caste boy whose parents are opposed to their relationship.

“These girls were proud to tell their story on camera. It shows change and how women want to shift consciousness. My dream is to show the film to everyone. I am showing it in Goa at IFFI (International Film Festival of India). I’m trying to bring all these girls to Goa. I wanted to bring Niranjan here, but I couldn’t because I couldn’t get her a passport as there are no records about her,” said Logninotto, who is taking the film to London and Copenhagen too.

This is not the director’s first women-centric film.

Her “The Day I Will Never Forget” examines the practice of female genital mutilation in Kenya and the pioneering African women who are bravely reversing the tradition. Similarly her “Sisters In Law”, winner of the Prix Art et Essai at the Cannes Film Festival, is set in the little town of Kumba, Cameroon, where there have been no convictions in spousal abuse cases for 17 years. It shows how two women, determined to bring change, are slowly making progress.

Some of her other works are “Theatre Girls”, “Rough Aunties” and “Pride of Place”.

“My dream is to see a day when baby girls are welcomed with open arms,” said Longinotto, who feels child abuse is not India-centric. “In Europe, a Catholic priest abused children. One priest abused 200 children.”

The audiences were moved by “Pink Saris” and many of them volunteered to help ‘Gulabi Gang’, Niranjan and Renu. Among them are two young school teachers – Beth Lewis and Ashley Hess.

“We would have not known about this problem if not for the film. We see people here from India but we don’t know what is their life back home. We hope this situation changes. We would like to help,” said Beth.

Ashley said: “We would like to help by raising funds…we can ask friends. People need to lift up their blinders.”

(Arpana can be contacted at [email protected])