Is "Education" the Answer? Films about Human Rights and Social Imbalances in India

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SHAKTI: THE POWER OF WOMEN. 54 mins. color. 2004. Distributed by Films for the Humanities & Sciences/ Films Media Group. Item# BVL35109. VHS (ISBN 978-1-4213-2843-0) or DVD-R (ISBN 978-1-4213-2844-7): purchase, $129.95. Streaming video: 1-year lease, $64.98. Website:

RUNAWAY GROOMS. 52 mins. color. 2006. Produced and directed by Ali Kazimi. Distributed by Filmakers Library, 124 East 40th Street, New York, NY 10016; phone: (212) 808-4983; e-mail: VHS or DVD purchase: $295.00; VHS rental: $85.00. Website:

A PYRAMID OF WOMEN. 20 mins. color. 2004. Directed by Cheryl Kanekar. Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; phone: (800) 723-5522; email: Code 2220. DVD or VHS: purchase: $155.00; rental: $65.00. Website: (scroll down to film title).

NALINI BY DAY, NANCY BY NIGHT. 27 mins. color. Hindi/English, subtitled. 2005. A film by Sonali Gulati. Distributed by Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, Suite 500L, New York, NY 10013; phone: (212) 925-0606; e-mail: Order # W06901. VHS or DVD: purchase: $195.00; rental: $60.00. Website:

It should come as no surprise that the most commonly suggested remedy for persistent human rights violations and social imbalances, especially those that are maintained in the name of tradition, is education. The four films reviewed here rest on this theme. Each film argues, in its own way, that if enough people are educated, they will recognize the imbalances and abuses of power that have long been accepted as part of cultural tradition, and work to dismantle the beliefs and practices in which those abuses and imbalances are embodied. The beauty of all of these films is that they allow us to hear the resonant tone of a call for change that a chorus of strong female voices creates.

Shakti: The Power of Women makes the most emphatic argument against the continuation of certain traditional practices--such as child marriage and the maintenance of the varna (caste) system--that, over the course of India's history, have essentially marginalized and/or endangered the majority of the country's population. The film consists of four vignettes, each documenting a different geographical area and addressing a women's rights (human rights) issue prevalent in that area. The film aims to make known not only the persistence of what can only be considered human rights violations, but also the methodical and compassionate efforts made by women and men alike to fight against these imbalances that have been ushered into the present by the heavy hand of tradition.

Part One takes on the sensitive issue of child marriage, which, despite being prohibited since 1961, continues to be a daunting problem, with approximately thirty million such marriages taking place each year. Many of the child brides are given away in marriage before the age of ten; they are aptly said to have had their lives stolen from them. These girls are "used in every way," barely making it to middle age. Significantly, the culprit in this theft is considered to be traditional culture.

Likewise, Parts Two and Four address equally problematic social issues pertaining specifically to women. Part Two outlines the establishment of a member-owned organization (SEWA) that provides poor, rural, working women (who make up eighty percent of India's female population) with a place to do banking, access credit, and insure themselves and their families. Women who would otherwise be left isolated, working for mere rupees a day, are granted a means of establishing a type of worker identity that effectively brings them together and makes it possible to contend with the trials of their daily lives, while also being able to think about a more stable life in the future. …