• profile Priya Belliappa,
  • March 8, 2015 | 4:53 pm

No Country for Women!

A Blog about Indian Women in Modern India - No Country for Women

Mahatma Gandhi once said “the day a woman walks freely on the roads at midnight, that day we can say that India achieved independence.”

Ours is not a nation that has been independent for 67 years – our nation is yet to be born!
With a population of over 1.2 billion (1,28,23,90,303) – with a sex ratio of 943 females per 1,000 males.

Our govt has been functioning for over 67 years – but how many women as opposed to men play a part in running of our country?

Why is there amongst only a 11.6% representation of women in the Lok Sabha – and according to the data it is the highest yet!

– Why is the only a 7.8% representation of women in the high courts?
– Why is there only 1 woman judge in the Supreme Court?
– Why does our country have just 5.33% women in police forces despite growing demands for more representation in law enforcement agencies?

If you look at the statistics it is no surprise that women are treated as second class citizens. It is no surprise the number of women and children being subjugated. It is no surprise that women in India continue to face atrocities such as rape, acid throwing, dowry killings, and the forced prostitution of young girls. It is no surprise that most of the cases are not reported and many are forcefully shot down. And it is no surprise that most girl children are not even allowed to live beyond the womb.

The statistics given are of the pillars of our democracy. Our nation can only progress if it is equally represented! These statistics are proof that we are far far behind and it is of dire importance that we, as a nation, as individuals take a couple of minutes and think. We need to appeal to the govt. the one that we have ourselves elected to take drastic measures to changes the absolutely skewed ratio and change the country so that we can progress – not only economically but as an equal and civilised nation. And we need to take drastic steps as individuals to change the country.

According to scholars, women in ancient India enjoyed equal status, they also suggest that women were educated with equal position and rights. Women were not forced to cover themselves, the purdah didn’t exist and forceful marriages didn’t exist. Judgments were not made on the length of ones skirt. Today, when extremist scream and massacre in the name of tradition – I wonder what is the tradition they are taking about?

The status on Indian women that changed in Medieval ages has yet to see a role reversal. Discrimination is so deeply ingrained that most of us believe it to be the norm. I have seen many educated men who have had good education and seem be to rational people talk about wanting a virgin bride – even though they have been out and about themselves. They talk about getting married as a duty so that the house is looked after, the breakfast is made, lunch is packed and the clothes are ironed. They confidently state that they are so happy because their wives look after their house and children so well!

I thank my lucky stars that I am born to a family where men and women share duties, where men and women take decisions after discussing and where individuality is respected and everyone’s thoughts are heard. Film making 15 years ago was not a field that children readily ventured into. It was totally new to my folks. But despite the odds they supported me, completely and with all their heart.

When I went to FTII I was in for a big surprise. Since it is a Govt. Institute I expected a parochial place. But is the most exciting, creatively conducive and competitive learning space. There was no discrimination – a great atmosphere to learn, create and share.

Coming to Bangalore from Bombay was a bit of a learning curve. Bangalore is a cosmopolitan town but you have to be very careful. A single woman driving her car at night attracted more eyes than necessary – my friend was followed by a car with young highly motivated boys who followed her, screaming and honking for more than 4 kms until she drove into a secure 5 star property and waited it out. If I were working and didn’t have a car, I couldn’t assume that public transport would be easily available.

On my 1st project in Bangalore whilst on the set on most days if the actress was not working that day then I was probably the only woman on the set. I didn’t realise initially, because most days are hectic and you barely have time to breathe, I only realised when an assistant choreographer told me that she was happy to see a change in Bangalore.

After Ranjini Ravindra Das, my producer and I decided to start my 1st feature film – we thought long and hard about our team. Not only did the film have to be different from the ones in the market, the project also had to be unique. When the seed of the all women crew was sown, we were thrilled. This was going to be something nobody had done. This was going to be our effort to break barriers set by men. We were going to prove to the world in a nation ruled by men in an industry dominated by men.

Thus our journey on “Ring Road” began.

Thoughts needed to be put into action and our search for our team began. The 1st couple of members were friends from Film School – so that was easy, they were most excited. But the trouble began when we realised that the rules of our film industry didn’t allow women to do make-up for films (ironic??) It seems that a bunch of members forming the film Union (dominated by men, making decisions on women’s behalf) have a rule that only men can get make-up cards and women have to only style hair!

– We were appalled by how are these rules made?
– How are they justified?
– Who is answerable?

On realising that if we were to follow most of the rules of the Industry then there is a possibility that our film would never get made! So, the next best step? Go to the Film Chamber and the Film Union and request (plead) an exemption of the rules. This turned out to be a tennis match – with the Chamber and the Union. Anyway, after many hours of bouncing from this office to that they agreed not to “let us” go ahead with our project. They gave us permission to break their age old rules! We are truly thankful – they could have totally ruled it out.

Our next hurdle – there are many areas of specialisation where women have barely ventured into. Getting a fight master was impossible, and we almost went to Indonesia to bring aboard our DI colourist. It took us months to put together our final team. I am happy to say that talented independent women from all over the country came together and we were thrilled that we could finally prove ourselves.

Finally after all the pre-production we were ready to roll.
We had a gruelling schedule of almost 80 days. Days blended into nights, and weeks into months. Our team was highly motivated – we pushed many boundaries and jumped many barriers. At this point I would like to come back to the statistics. We have to go to many govt. organisations to get permissions and approvals – it’s a daunting task when you are the only women there. It’s not like anything happened that we can pin point but it’s inherent in places that don’t have the presence of women. Another drawback was shooting at night. Though we had the necessary permissions – the cops who came as protection for the team consisted of only men. Not once was a woman constable assigned for our team. Again we are happy that everything went smoothly but I feel strongly that the atmosphere would have been very different.
Anyway, once the shoot was done we thought that we had fought all our battles and our flags were flying high! But alas! No such luck. The war had just begun.

Our films title “Ring Road Shubha” was caught up in a whirlwind tussle in the Film Chamber. This was the most annoying part of my journey. We had applied for the title “Ring Road Shubha” – The Film Chamber rejected it. So, we wrote them a letter stating that our creativity was being curbed for no reason and that their rejection was not right, but since they are the “authority” we will go ahead and change it to “Ring Road”. After we sent the letter we got a call from the Film Chamber saying that there should be no reason for us to not get the title – and that we could go ahead with our original “Ring Road Shubha”! Ecstatic we planned our publicity and our audio launch. Posters were printed and plans were made.

We spread the news of our efforts. We wanted the world to know that we had finally done something that no one else had.

But, this process was cut short when we had to submit our film to get our Censor Certificate. Suddenly the Film Chamber was not signing the required Title documents. They said that there was no problem… just some signatures needed. So we waited patiently. We went to the office every time they summoned us – we wrote many letters that they repeatedly asked for and we waited. Again in an office with a maximum of 2 women it’s not a pleasant wait. We waited for more than 2 months – Why? Because, everyday they said: “don’t worry… it’ll be done, come tomorrow” … a harrowing process, because they finally didn’t give us the title. I hate to ask myself this question, but sometimes I do – “did they make us wait unnecessarily for all this time just because we were women?”

Anyway, the next and last step was the Censor Certification. This was much easier than the Title process. We had to make changes in the film – but the Censor Officers explained to us that it would be for our own good as we were inspired by many real life stories and that they felt that after all the effort we have made as a team we shouldn’t suffer when we release the film. With the changes made our film is finally ready for the audience to watch

A lot of people ask me why I took so long to finish the project – here is my answer “It wasn’t easy!”

In our diverse and dynamic nation we should not only measure our development economically – progress should be measured through individual development. The patriarchal hereditary nature of Indian politics requires urgent intervention at many levels and in many forms.

Swami Vivekananda once said “There is no chance for the welfare of the world unless the condition of woman is improved. It is not possible for a bird to fly with only one wing”

Isn’t it time we as a nation learnt to fly?

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