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The camera is on Muslim women

Dehleez toh paar kar li hai, ab zamane se takrana hai.

Peeche mud ke ab kya dekhoon, mujhe aage badhte jana hai.

I have crossed the patriarchal boundary, now I have to fight the world

Why should i look back now, I have to  keep on walking ahead …….


By Kamayani Bali-Mahabal

It’s a powerful film, ‘Tiryaaq’, which literally means an antidote. It’s a narrative that is meant to reach out to regular people and the patriarchal powers of polity, clergy and family with the intention of not just unravelling the insidious functioning of caste patriarchy and religious fundamentalism but also training the spotlight on the lives and struggles of countless Muslim women who are confined within the contours of ‘nation’, ‘community’ and ‘family’.

Conceptualised by activist and Ashoka Fellow Hasina Khan, this is a story told by grassroots Muslim women associated with Bebaak Collective, a group of 15 organisations that work in Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, among other states, and engage on issues like education, violence, communalism, employability, rehabilitation, advocacy and health. “Over a period of three years, we held sustained interactions with members of these organisations. We talked about the work being done with women, shared experiences, discussed ways in which we could build a collective perspective and strategised for enhancing networking and campaigning capabilities,” reveals Khan. The film has emerged from these engagements and is an honest attempt “to bring to the fore, the personal and political journeys of Muslim women and the inter-linkages between the two”.

The women candidly share on camera their life stories with the viewers – talking about how they managed to redefine their family structures, their relationships, the community dynamics, and most importantly, their identities. Simultaneously, the film also uncovers women’s interactions with the State and the repercussions of its repressive politics.

Talking about the purpose behind making the film, Khan says, “Within the women’s movement, the voices of women from the minority and marginalised groups have remained subordinated. This has been particularly true of Muslim women who have been stereotyped in popular imagination. Even the issues that are discussed are largely a reaction to some incident or event like the issuing of a fatwa or the pronouncement of the triple talaq. So the film is an endeavour to project the independent voice of Muslim women who do not belong to upper class and /or urban backgrounds; women who have participated and broadened the horizons of women’s movement.”

Activists from different organisations under the Bebaak Collective take turns to flag some of the key concerns that the women of their community face, which also find space in the film in some way or another. Khairun Nishad of the Ahmedabad-based Parvaaz points out that reforming the personal laws must be a priority because it’s necessary to achieve gender justice. She says, “We have anyway been encountering bias and resistance from within the family and outside. In fact, considering the socio-political climate prevalent these days, now more than ever Muslim woman are at risk of being targeted. Bettering the laws will definitely strengthen their position.”

Reshma from Sahiyar, a Vadodara organisation, vociferously states, “We have three demands – we want social security, our citizenship rights and equality under the law. The implementation of the recommendations of the Sachar Committee in all the states will make a difference. Systemic apathy has really made things hard for the Muslim population. In slums across Gujarat, they are routinely targeted although it may not be as bad as 2002. Destruction of property, too, is not uncommon. Moreover, civic amenities are virtually non existent or in a shambles in most Muslim localities. When it comes to women’s interactions with the authorities, the lesser said the better. Even filing an FIR in case of a domestic dispute is not easy.”

For Azma Aziz of Muhim, which works with Muslim girls and school dropouts in Farrukhabad, Uttar Pradesh, advocating for better educational opportunities for young girls is quite obviously foremost on her agenda. As do Shadaab Jahaan of Astitva in Saharanpur as well as Nazma Iqbal of Pehchan Samajik Sanstha in Uttarakhand. These committed activists are convinced that education, employment and mobility are crucial to Muslim women realising their true potential.

‘Tiryaaq’, in a sense, gives an outlet to all these “aspirations”. At the same time, it transforms into a platform where the women openly reflect on the problems that afflict their everyday lives – be it the lack of basic facilities, especially in terms of proper schools, Primary Health Centres (PHCs), ration shops and Integrated Child Development Service (ICDS) centres in Muslim neighbhourhoods in cities and the rural hamlets, or the social discrimination they are routinely subjected to.

In the film, 12-year-old Rehnuma, who lives in Farrukhabad, which is a mere four kilometers from the high-profile Gandhi constituency of Amethi, relates a chilling tale of discrimination. At a local school in the city, which has an 80 per cent Muslim population, children like her, she says, are treated as “dirty people”. “Our mid-day meal is thrown into our plate from a ‘safe’ distance by the cook, who is a non-Muslim. Even the teacher flings our books at us and teaches from far,” she reveals, questioning innocently, “Hum ko chhoote kyon nahi hain? Kyon kehte hain ki Muslim gande hote hain (Why don’t they come close to us? Why do they say that Muslims are dirty?)”

Apart from accounts of rabid prejudices, there are also anecdotes about empowerment. One such comes from Abida, a woman hailing from Dehradun, Uttarakhand’s state capital. She recalls the time when she couldn’t even imagine stepping out of her home without the ‘burqa’ (veil). Then she linked up with a women’s organisation where she gained awareness regarding her rights and realised the value of freedom. Once she made up her mind to do away with ‘burqa’ she got down to the tough task of convincing her conservative family members. It took some time but Abida has successfully given up the veil.

Insightful, poignant, informative and enthusing, ‘Tiryaaq’ is all this and more. And it has become an inspiring narrative thanks to the work that Khan and the Bebaak Collective have put in. Shikha Pandey, a post-graduate Social Communications Media diploma holder and the editor of the film, says, “We shot the film with 10 organisations working in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra. At the end of the entire schedule we had one terabyte of raw footage to work with, which included individual stories, accounts about the formation of the collectives/organisations, as well as focus group discussions that had been conducted between community members and field workers. Each conversation raised different issues stemming from their work and the immediate socio-political environment.”

When she started editing the footage Pandey reveals that she consciously tried to keep a few things in mind, “The idea was to highlight the immediate concerns of the women while keeping in mind the larger picture – the long-term struggles of the community. Besides, we wanted to see if we could establish parallels across geography and chronology from the narratives.”

Who has been credited with directing this film? According to Pandey, it’s a group effort. She elaborates, “Everyone concerned with the project has brought pieces of themselves and their politics to it. Basically, the director is one whose vision drives the team to achieve the final goal, but when the vision is collective and is the product of team effort then such a credit terminology is pretty redundant. As far as the ownership of the film is concerned, it belongs to all the groups that are part of Bebaak Collective; it belongs to each woman who has shared her struggles and

her dreams.” Incidentally, ‘Tiryaaq’ has an element of animation as well, which has been used to “connect the dots between the various themes and opinions”.

Jahaan and Iqbal conclude, “‘Tiryaaq’ is our way of reaching out to people and enabling them to take a closer look at the world of Muslim women. There is a great need to deliberate on our lived realities, and this is our first step.”


For Women Feature Service  @WFS

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#India- Militant Durga Vahini Camp In India Is Training Young Women To Hate Themselves And Accept Their Weakness #WTFnews

“Can you really hide your natural weakness or character as a woman?”posted on May 26, 2014, at 1:39 a.m.

BuzzFeed Staff

The Durga Vahini is the women’s wing of a Hindu nationalist organization in India — the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The militaristic camp aims to empower young women to fight for the Hindu nationalist cause and to espouse the traditional roles of women.

The Durga Vahini is the women's wing of a Hindu nationalist organization in India — the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. The militaristic camp aims to empower young women to fight for the Hindu nationalist cause and to espouse the traditional roles of women.

A clip from the film The World Before Her shows how young women at the camp are brainwashed into believing they are naturally weak and need to be tamed. (WARNING: The video contains disturbing scenes towards the end.)

At the camp, women between the ages of 18 and 35 are trained in self-defense to combat those who go against their religious ideals. They are also taught to adhere to the idea of a male-dominated society and to reclaim their roles as wives and mothers.

At the camp, women between the ages of 18 and 35 are trained in self-defense to combat those who go against their religious ideals. They are also taught to adhere to the idea of a male-dominated society and to reclaim their roles as wives and mothers.

One of their aims, as listed on their website, is to stop religious conversions by “cautioning our sisters of the conspiracies of alien faiths like Islam and Christianity.”

Women who “forsake their normal female tenderness and affinity” and “protect their brothers” are considered role models.


The World Before Her is a documentary film that highlights two distinct groups of Indian women: beauty pageant contestants, and militant Hindu fundamentalists.

It won the best documentary feature at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2012 and releases in India on June 6.

In the clip, a social worker, Aparnatai Ramtirthakar, talks to the camp’s girls about their “duties as a woman.”

In the clip, a social worker, Aparnatai Ramtirthakar, talks to the camp's girls about their "duties as a woman."

She tells them that women should be married by the age of 18 because “by the time they’re 25, they’ll become so strong-willed, you won’t be able to tame them.”

She tells them that women should be married by the age of 18 because "by the time they're 25, they'll become so strong-willed, you won't be able to tame them."

She emphasizes that girls should never leave their homes, and blames Westernization for women wanting an education and a career.

She emphasizes that girls should never leave their homes, and blames Westernization for women wanting an education and a career.

“Is it really necessary for you to leave your homes, just for your ego and go chasing you career? Have we become so Westernized?”

She talks about how her mother slapped her for looking at herself in the mirror.

She talks about how her mother slapped her for looking at herself in the mirror.

The Durga Vahini camps focus on “de-feminizing” and desexualizing the female body, while blaming Westernization and Islam for increased sexual violence against women.

While dismissing gender equality, the social worker asks the girls, “Can you really hide your natural weakness or character as a woman?”

While dismissing gender equality, the social worker asks the girls, "Can you really hide your natural weakness or character as a woman?"

The clip then ends with disturbing scenes from a 2009 incident where members of a Hindu extremist group attacked women for drinking alochol at a bar in south India.

The clip then ends with disturbing scenes from a 2009 incident where members of a Hindu extremist group attacked women for drinking alochol at a bar in south India.

In this FirstPost interview, director Nisha Pahuja discussed the most disturbing part of filming at the camp.

“You know, more than the physical training the girls at the Durga Vahini camp are given, it’s the brainwashing and the blood curdling chants they are taught that shocked and depressed me. On the bus ride they take en route to their parade, they learned a few phrases that I simply refused to include in the film. Those were the sorts of moments that were hugely trying for me and my crew as well. We saw how easy it was to manipulate young minds.”

Read more here —

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#Sundayreading – ‘En Dino Muzaffarnagar’ portrays the grisly outcome of electoral communalism

Film Review

Saturday, 3 May 2014 – 4:55pm IST | Agency: DNA
The film is a grim, cautionary tale
  • muzaffarnagar-riots

“The Punjab seemed to have become a howling wilderness of beasts rather than a land of human beings. All humanity disappeared”, lamented Sir Mohammad Zafarullah Khan at the bloodbath which gripped Lahore in 1947. It would be an apt metaphor for Muzaffarnagar, which never hosted what Paul Brass terms “an institutionalised riot system” but has come to be the fearful face of communal violence of the largest scale post Gujarat 2002.

Do communal riots have a master narrative? Did Muzaffarnagar follow past trends, or was it an outlier, which could still hold portentous messages and lessons for the future? These questions were plaguing Shubhradeep Chakravarty, journalist-turned-documentary film-maker, whose latest work En Dino Muzaffarnagar premiered at Mumbai’s Prithvi Theatre this week.

More than curiosity, however, Chakravarty was enthused by his partner Meera Chaudhary’s personal quest to look for answers to this bloodstained mayhem. Chaudhary, who hails from Muzaffarnagar, wanted to know how and why the atmosphere of amity between the Jats and Muslims got so vitiated. Investigating communal riots isn’t something alien to the couple, and nor is their disenchantment and scepticism of “official narratives”. In 2003, their Godhra Tak: The Terror Trail raised the hackles of the VHP and its patrons because their lies, being trotted as “the truth”, stood exposed.

An infernal din has swept away credible explanations of what lit the sparks and stoked the flames in Muzaffarnagar; what we have is a cacophony of voices with vested interests, each screaming to drown out the other. There is also a sting operation by a television channel, claiming sole prerogative to the truth. The one-member judicial commission headed by Justice Vishnu Sahai is yet to submit its report, and if the reports of the Liberhan and Srikrishna Commissions’ fates are of any example, the wait wouldn’t, in all probability, be worth putting money on. An independent fact-finding committee, comprising some academicians and journalists, came up with a report which offers only cold comfort, because it, hamstrung by expedient constraints, does not dig deep enough.

It is here that En Dino Muzaffarnagar provides a chilling perspective, something that both the administration and civil society should ignore only at its own peril. The initial cause is well known and undisputed by now – on August 27, Shahnawaz, a Muslim youth, is hacked to death by a group of Jat boys out to avenge the “honour” of a girl from their community. But Gaurav and Sachin Malik were unable to get away in time, and are lynched by an irate mob which had gathered at the spot. From there, it is a violent downward spiral. Local BJP MLA Sangeet Som circulates a video, which ostensibly captures the Jat duo’s last moments. As established now, the video was fake – it was two years old, and showed a lynching in Pakistan’s Punjab province, but reason and discretion hold scant currency in a simmering cauldron of communal passions.

All reports and versions parrot on about the caste-based schism, because only lower caste Muslims and not the upper caste Jat Muslims (Mulay Jats, in local parlance) bore the maximum brunt. Therefore, one is astounded at Chaudhary and Chakravarty document with painstaking detail the BJP and assorted Hindutva groups’, especially the RSS’ pursuit of the “love jihad” strategy for communal polarisation and subsequent mobilisation.

Indresh Kumar, infamous RSS zealot, in the company of a Sadhvi Prachi, addresses Jat gatherings where he invokes “bahu behen beti ki izzat” and the Mahabharat’s Draupadi to instigate the enthralled listeners. A battle against the Muslims must be waged to maintain the purity of the community and its honour, he thunders. Even Kalyan Singh, former BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh and under whose watch the Babri Masjid was reduced to rubble, delivers a speech where shockingly, he harps on the “action-reaction” theory which is frighteningly familiar by now.

The Jats have traditionally maintained a distance from the rabid purveyors of Hindutva, but ‘the honour of our womenfolk’ is of paramount importance to a community strongly rooted in obscurantist, even vicious patriarchy. Combine this with growing disenchantment and unemployment among the youth (since jobs are scarce and interest in agriculture is dwindling) and distribution of liquor and cash – and one has a noxious mix. September 7, 2013, witnessed a huge rally – a mahapanchayat called by the dominant Jat groups – teeming with these belligerent youth brandishing all sorts of weapons – spears, illicit country-made pistols, licensed rifles (almost every Jat family owns more than one), sickles and scythes. Seething with rage, they rent the air with slogans, most vociferous and common among which were “Narendra Modi zindabad!” and “Mussalmanon ke do hi sthan – Pakistan ya kabristan!”

It is interesting to take note of these weapons, for they set Muzaffarnagar apart from most other communal riots. When members of a predominantly agricultural community go on a killing spree, the police and administration are caught in a bind. Secret gathering of arms, ammunition and gasoline, as done in Gujarat is dispensed with. Same goes for vehicles. Agricultural implements like sickles and scythes are lethal, and here the killers roamed around in tractors, but it is an uphill task to seize these as part of pre-emptive measures.

In so far as the macabre modus operandi goes, some of the Jat rioters reveal to Chaudhary and Chakravarty the Amit Shah lessons they had learnt. In the summer of 2013, Shah had toured many villages and had taught not only how to kill, but also to grab land. Don’t douse people with kerosene and set them afire, for the charred remains help DNA fingerprinting, he had advised. Rather, hack to pieces, then set afire. Identification becomes difficult, and as long as a person is on the “missing” list, his land and dwelling can be safely grabbed, for only after seven years does the law acknowledge him as dead.

While the craven pusillanimity of the Samajwadi Party government has been thoroughly exposed and much criticised by now, and the orgy of rape and administration’s inhumane callousness has hogged the headlines, the investigation into the atrocities hasn’t received much coverage. This documentary focuses more on how all stops are being pulled to thwart the Special Investigation Team’s (SIT) efforts. “Jale hue ghar mein koi balatkar karega?” (Will anyone commit rape in a house reduced to ashes?) , is one woman’s defiant answer when her husband is being charged. More worrisome than such sundry denials and the individual hurling of counter-charges against the Muslims is the collective front put up by different Jat groups to stonewall the investigation. At a meeting with the District Magistrate, the communities’ elders and leaders resolutely bellow that they wouldn’t submit to the law, even if resistance requires the use of force.

Back in 2004, Steven Wilkinson had warned that electoral incentives would be the key factors driving ethnic and communal violence in India. That dire prediction had gone unheeded, and the chickens hatched out of that came home to roost in Muzaffarnagar just in time for one of the most scabrous of elections this country has ever suffered.

In one of the opening scenes, an old man wistfully reminisces about the “Mohabbatnagar” of yore. As the ground reality shows, the hateful communal divide between the Jats and Muslims would only worsen, and nothing but the most stringent vigilance can prevent another conflagration. En Dino Muzaffarnagar sombrely presages the outcome were the politics of hate allowed to breed and propagate.


Read more here —

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Film on lingering trauma of Gujarat Riots 2002 by NRG Sisters


Even the Crows: A Divided Gujarat

At a time where the controversial Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, is running to be India’s next Prime Minister, Even the Crows explores the way in which his politics and Hindu nationalist ideology have polarised Gujarat along religious lines. Since the anti-Muslim riots that exploded in 2002, the Muslim minority population have been denied justice and marginalised to the ghettos. Meanwhile, Narendra Modi, who has been accused of complicity in the riots, has ridden a wave of popularity. Through the intimate stories of American-Gujarati Nishrin, whose father, a prominent Muslim MP, was butchered during the 2002 Gujarat riots, and British-Gujarati Imran, who was the sole survivor when he was attacked along with his two uncles a friend while on holiday in the state, the film explores Modi’s link to the violence and the minority community’s ongoing struggle for justice.
AHMEDABAD: Two sisters, Sheena and Sonum Sumaria, born in London to a Gujarati-Jain family, have made a movie on the communal divide that has plagued Gujarat in the aftermath of the communal riots of 2002.
The two sisters, both graduates of Cambridge University, had come to the state in 2012 on a visit to their grandfather’s place of birth in western Gujarat. But once here, they realized that they had entered a divided society polarized along communal lines over the ruling BJP and its leader.
“We were born in London to a Gujarati-Jain family.Our grandparents were born in Gujarat while our parents were born in Kenya. We come from a multi-cultural environment and are passionate about justice. As we delved into Gujarat’s recent history, we could sense the lingering effects of the 2002 riots. We knew that this state was once very inclusive.
This is how our effort to make a film on Narendra Modi, Hindu nationalism and the suffering of Muslims after 2002 began,” said Sheena, a student of economics at Cambridge and of globalisation and development at University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). Interestingly, the film called, ‘Even the Crows’, was crowd-funded. “Around 56 people from across the world backed our project.
We collected over Rs 8 lakh for the movie’s production,” said Sonum, who studied Spanish and Russian at Cambridge University and film at Escuela de Cine y Television, Cuba. The movie has moving accounts of the Gujarati-American, Nishrin, whose father, a former MP and prominent Muslim leader, was killed during the riots; of Nishrin’s husband, Najid Hussein; and British-Gujarati, Imran, who was the sole survivor when he and two of his uncles were attacked while on a holiday in the state.
Political psychologist Ashis Nandy, danseuse and activist Mallika Sarabhai and Prasad Chako of St Xaviers have contributed to the film with their insights. Mallika Sarabhai said that the people ruined by the 2002 violence have not received justice. “Every reminder – even if it is in the form of a film – that justice has not been done is welcome, as it gives hope that someone will take note,” she said. The underlining concern explored in the film is the marginalization of the minority community in Gujarati society. “Most people from that community live in ghettos today. Hindutva is glorified for political means even as justice is denied to thousands of Muslims traumatized by the violence directed against them,” said Sheena. Having screened the film in the diaspora, the sisters seem positive.
“Indians outside India read how Modi’s party is good for business but they know little about other things. We plan to raise a debate and encourage critical thinking,” said Sonum. “We have filmed in India, the UK and the US and hope to screen the movie in all these places and at film festivals. For India, we intend to align screening dates with the anniversary of the Gujarat riots,” said Sheena. ‘Modi as PM would split India’
The filmmaker sisters feel that Gujarat chief minister’s style of politics and Hindu fundamentalist ideology has polarized the state along religious lines and may further divide India if he becomes the PM. “He might strip India of its secular strength,” they said.
ReAd more here —
Directors’ Biography

Sheena Sumaria studied economics and development studies at Cambridge University and the School of Oriental and African Studies and started to make films while travelling and working with marginalised communities in South America. Her films include ‘Still Standing’, set in the slums of Colombia, and ‘Chile Construyendo Suenos’ about the Chilean student uprising. She has also worked for a range of NGOs and international organisations on social policy and international development issues.

Sonum Sumaria read Spanish and Russian at Cambridge University. She studied filmmaking at the renowned Cuban film school, EICTV, and has directed and produced a number of short films and documentaries. These include award winning ‘Goppi the Cuban Indian’ and ‘The Enchanted Apple Tree’.

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Remembering Wilma: First modern woman chief of the Cherokee Nation

January 28, 2014 by 


Director Charlie Soap with actors Kimberly Guerrero and Mo Brings Plenty

Wilma Mankiller, the first modern woman chief of the Cherokee Nation, died four years ago this spring, but thanks to a determined effort by her family, friends and the communities she spent her life advocating for, her legacy lives on in film.

The Cherokee Word For Water, a docudrama directed by Wilma’s husband and longtime community development partner, Charlie Soap, follows a young Mankiller as she works to bring water to the rural, primarily Cherokee community of Bell, Ok. Due to tribal financial limitations, Mankiller and Soap had to convince community residents to lay 18 miles of water line by themselves in order to bring running water to their homes. Thanks in large part to Mankiller’s fierce determination, the community completed the project, improving their quality of life and strengthening their communal bonds.


Mo Brings Plenty as Charlie Soap and Kimberly Guerrero as Wilma Mankiller

“The Bell project created a movement in the Cherokee nation for self help. Together we were able to instill pride and self confidence and actually make people believe they could do anything they wanted to do if they set their mind to it,” Charlie Soap told the Ms. Blog.

The success of the Bell Waterline Project vaulted Mankiller into tribal politics. She was elected deputy chief in 1983 and then principal chief in 1985, a position she held for 10 years. During that time she made great strides toward improved health, education, housing, utilities management and tribal government, as well as devoting time to civil rights work focused largely on women’s rights.


Co-producer, and friend of Mankiller’s, Kristina Kiehl

Soap and the film’s co-producer, Kristina Kiehl, have chosen to forgo the traditional film distribution route and instead opted for a model in which people organize their own screenings. On reservations, screenings have evolved into forums for discussion about issues in Indian Country, boosting community organizing and activism. In that way, Wilma’s work continues through the film.

“We are able to control the message while creating community in the process, and local groups can use a screening as a fundraiser and double the impact.” says Kiehl, a feminist activist and longtime friend of Mankiller’s. The two became close while on the Ms. Foundation For Women with mutual friend, and Ms. co-founder, Gloria Steinem. When Kiehl first approached Mankiller about making a film, Mankiller was apprehensive. Said Kiehl,

Wilma did not want a story about her. She was very clear that she wanted it to be about community. The reason she agreed to do a film was her firm belief that public perception drives public policy, and that policy-makers in general have no experience with Indian people … She also felt, and we all agreed, that it was important to see a strong positive woman leader working in partnership with a strong male partner and both of them working in partnership with the community.


Co-producer and director, as well as Mankiller’s husband, Charlie Soap

More than three decades after work began on the Bell Waterline Project, native communities across the U.S. are still in need. A disproportionately large percentage of American Indians live below the federal poverty line, and issues such as sexual assault on reservations and inadequate housing still abound: More than one in threenative women will experience sexual assault in their lifetimes and at least 90,000 Indian families are homeless or under-housed. Despite the obvious need, the recent federal sequester cut $500 million [PDF] in federal funding for tribes. These cuts have devastated areas of Indian country that are already suffering from unemployment rates much higher than the general population.

The Ms. Blog also spoke with Kim Teehee, a longstanding advocate for Native American issues as well as a close friend and former intern to Mankiller. As Teehee, whose relatives worked alongside Mankiller to build the Bell Waterline, put it,

Wilma tapped into who Cherokees are fundamentally in order to get them to participate in that project, and when the budget cuts occur and tribes are without the ability to adequately provide for their communities, that impacts them because its so embedded in our culture to care for our people, our community … it’s impacting something greater, it’s impacting our traditional ways of life.

With Women’s History Month coming in March, the filmmakers are encouraging schools across the U.S. to host screenings. They’re also going to ask followers on Facebook and Twitter to share stories about how Wilma, or another women leader, inspired them. The Cherokee Word For Water will hopefully encourage collective efforts in other communities, as well as demonstrate the necessity of strong women in positions of power in our society.

“I think that the biggest legacy that Wilma has left us with is leadership,” said Charlie Soap.  “She inspired people.”


Join the movement by hosting your own screening today! For more information about the film or how to host a screening, visit, the film’s Facebook pageand @WordForWater on Twitter.

Photos courtesy of Mike Heller, Shane Brown, and The Cherokee Word For Water.

A shorter version of this story will appear in the Winter 2014 issue of Ms. magazine.

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Kabir festival to add mystic flavour to Mumbai life

Sunday, Jan 5, 2014, 10:40 IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA
26 events based on the poet’s philosophy will draw fans from across the country starting January 8.
Parvathy Baul, a celebrated Baul singer from West Bengal, at an earlier edition of the fest.

Parvathy Baul, a celebrated Baul singer from West Bengal, at an earlier edition of the fest.
The famed poet-saint Kabir’s mystic spell is set to hold the city sway from January 8 to 12. The fourth of its kind, the Kabir Festival will be held at Breach Candy, Fort, Jogeshwari, Nariman Point, Vidyavihar, Powai, Andheri, Lower Parel, Matunga, Khar, Bandra, Byculla, and Bhendi Bazaar.
“The idea behind having it across the city is that people from different areas can enjoy it,” said Falguni Desai, a member of the Kabir Community in city, which is organising the festival. It’s co-sponsored by Shabdam, an initiative to preserve the Hindi language and associated literary and art forms. There will be 26 events based on the poet’s philosophy, and the programme includes live music, films, workshops, music narratives and Bharat Natyam and Kathak performances.
All events will be free of cost and open to everyone, except those that are being held exclusively for children and students.
“Folk music is usually ticketed, expensive and beyond the masses’ reach. As our motto is erasing all boundaries that divide people, it will be free of cost. The festival will encourage equality, love and brotherhood,” said Desai.
Prominent performers will include Padma Shri Prahlad Singh Tipaniya, a renowned Kabir singer of the Malwi folk tradition, Mooralala Marwada, a Kabir singer of the Kutch folk tradition, Bhanwari Devi, a rustic folk singer from Churu, Rajasthan, and Parvathy Baul and Lakshman Das Baul, celebrated Baul singers from West Bengal. “The reason folk music features so prominently is that most of Kabir’s work has been passed down through song and music,” said Desai. Apart from folk music, the festival will see some first-time performers bringing together different expressions of faith.
The Sufi Gospel project with Sonam Kalra will give one such performance via gospel singing and sufi renditions. ‘Mad and Divine’ by Rama Vaidyananathan will look to bring alive the poetry of Janabai and Lal Ded through dance while Sanjukta Wagh’s performance in collaboration with Hindustani vocalist Makrand Deshpande and percussionist Satish Krishnamurthy will present ‘Ubha Vitewari’, exploring varied voices from the Varkari Sampradayaa through Kathak.

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Oscar-nominated film on child slavery in India comes to Cannock, UK

by  on November 8, 2013 in Cannock NewsWhat’s On

An award-winning, Oscar-nominated short film is coming to Cannock to highlight the plight of thousands of children in India caught up in modern day slavery as bonded labourers.

The film ‘Kavi’ won US director and producer Gregg Helvey a Student Academy Award in 2009 and a nomination for an Academy Award the following year, but this is the first time that public screenings have been arranged in the UK. Stafford-based human rights charity Dalit Freedom Network UK, who campaign to end the human trafficking and slavery of India’s Dalits (Untouchables), is showing the film at the Electric Palace Picture House in Walsall Road at 8pm on Sunday 10 November as part of India’s Lost Childhood. Special guest Kumar Swamy, South India Human Rights Convenor, will be interviewed and there will also be an audience Q&A

Gregg Helvey, the film’s director, says,

“I was shocked to learn that 27 million people around the world are enslaved today. As I began to research and understand the extent of modern slavery, I knew that I had to make a movie about it. People had to know.” Kavi is the story of a young boy in India who wants to go to school and to play cricket with other children. Instead he is forced to work in a brick kiln as a modern day slave.

“Kavi’s story may be fiction, but sadly it reflects the reality for hundreds of thousands if not millions of children in India who are forced to work as modern day slaves in brick kilns, textile factories, quarries, cotton fields, and so on, and even in people’s homes as domestic servants” says Kumar Swamy. “So many of these children, possibly nine out of ten, are Dalits – Untouchables. It’s tragic, it’s inhuman, it’s a crime, and the world needs to know about how these children are being exploited and abused. These children need hope and freedom, they need a childhood to be able to go to school and play with friends.”

The first Global Slavery Index published this month, confirms that India has almost half the world’s slaves, and most of them are Dalits. Dalit Freedom Network (DFN) is working to prevent the trafficking and bonded labour of Dalit children by providing them with a quality education to provide skills and knowledge that will enable them to get better jobs. DFN UK supports over 100 schools in India run by their Indian partners. Without these schools as many as ten thousand of the twenty five thousand pupils would otherwise have been trafficked or enslaved in bonded labour. People can find out more and make donations to DFN UK’s work at

Free tickets can be obtained in advance from Dalit Freedom Network by calling 01785 785068 or emailing, or in person from the cinema. More details are available at

Child labor Bangladesh Oscar nominated film on child slavery in India comes to CannockIMG: Source

– See more at:


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Fight CNN’s Pro-Nuke Propaganda– Sign Petition #mustshare

Network to air one-sided advocacy for nuclear power

October 25, 2013

On November 7, CNN will air the pro-nuclear power documentary Pandora’s Promise.

The film tells one side of the nuclear debate, profiling a few people who were once critical of the nuclear industry and are now boosters.

Tell CNN: Give your viewers more than one side of the nuclear debate. Make time for a rebuttal to Pandora’s Promise.

Pandora’s Promise argues that environmentalists should embrace nuclear power. The film is unbalanced by design–making it a curious pick for a news organization that markets itself as a more neutral alternative to its cable news competitors.

Pandora’s Promise “is as stacked as advocate movies get,” the New York Times  (6/11/13) explained in its review. The film “leaves no room for dissent, much less a drop of doubt,” the Timesadds, calling it a “parade of like-minded nuclear-power advocates who assure us that everything will be all right.”

The review also noted that one of the financial backers of the film, Paul Allen, is invested in nuclear power–the kind of conflict of interest that journalistic outlets try to avoid.

Even a very sympathetic reviewer in Time magazine (6/21/13) admitted that he “would have liked to have seen a more meaningful debate on screen–the only opponents of nuclear power that appear come off as bonkers.”

Does the film at least get the facts right? Critics of nuclear power say absolutely not. As TheNation‘s Mark Hertsgaard (6/16/13) shows, the film misleads viewers about the health effects of the Chernobyl disaster.

It also has very little to say about the costs associated with building nuclear power plants in the first place–a critical question as humanity considers the best way to transition away from climate-wrecking fossil fuels.

So why is CNN giving viewers a one-sided brief in favor of nuclear power? Tell them you think nuclear power doesn’t need uncritical cheerleading–it needs a debate where all sides are heard.

Join FAIR and Roots Action in telling CNN: Let’s have a real debate about nuclear power.


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#India – The Challenge of depicting slain Human Rights Lawyer Shahid Azmi’s life on film#Sundayreading

Keeping it real

By ANAND HOLLA, Mumbai Mirror | Oct 20, 2013,
Keeping it real
Shahid director Hansal Mehta on the challenge of depicting slain lawyer Shahid Azmi‘s life on film and finding comfort in reality.

All through the muchacclaimed film, Shahid, based on the life of slain criminal lawyer Shahid Azmi, one can sense director Hansal Mehta aching to root his reel Shahid (played by Raj Kumar Yadav) in Azmi’s reality.

And when the two worlds meet, we get to see some very moving cinema. Mehta’s choice of shooting in the apartment above Azmi’s modest ground floor residence in Kurla’s Taximen’s Colony — Azmi was killed at point blank range in front of his office, one block away, in 2010 — literally lets the audience into the life of the human rights activist who fought for those accused wrongly in terror cases.

“I wanted to capture the sense of claustrophobia and unkemptness of his home, to familiarise the viewer,” says Mehta. Kumar, who is convincing in his portrayal of Azmi, even “felt” the worlds meet, Mehta shares. “In the scene where Shahid returns after getting a terror accused discharged, a horde of elderly men hug and congratulate him.

This scene was shot in a Pydhonie chawl, where they all knew Shahid. Raj Kumar later told me it felt surreal, because just for that moment, they wanted to believe he was Shahid.”

Sensing the director’s passion, it isn’t hard to understand why he felt drawn to tell Azmi’s story.

After the disastrous Woodstock Villa (2008), Mehta retreated to Lonavala. “I was upset with myself. It was a turbulent time, both professionally and financially,” he says. In February 2010, days after he had moved back to the city, he was shaken out of his trance by a newspaper headline that screamed murder. “I was taken in by how Shahid was just 32, and had had such a fascinating life. I began reading all I could about him,” he says. Mehta then put his 18-year-old son Jai and writer Sameer Gautam Singh on the task of meeting Azmi’s family – his four brothers Tarique, Rashid, Arif, and Khalid, and mother Rehana, who insists that her son looks like Fardeen Khan – to glean as much information as they could.

Mehta concedes that his lifelong obsession to depict the common man as a hero found its apogee in Azmi. Undoubtedly, Azmi’s story makes for a compelling narrative. After surviving the 1992-93 riots as a teenager in Govandi, he underwent arms training in Kashmir but returned home disillusioned. He was arrested a year later for conspiring to kill top politicians, and endured police torture. He was sentenced to five years in prison under the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act on the basis of a questionable confession. Lodged in Tihar jail, Azmi completed class 12 and a bachelor’s degree. Other inmates in the jail included Omar Sheikh and Masood Azhar who were released during the Kandahar IC-814 hijacking episode.

What is most heartening, and this is the idea that forms the core of Shahid, is that when Azmi was freed in 2001, he studied journalism and law and chose to fight cases for those wrongly accused of terrorism, pro bono.

Though Mehta admits the film isn’t a classic biopic, he still faced the challenges of making one. However, the director isn’t worried that he has made a hero out of Azmi. It’s not that he was oblivious to the sinister chatter around his protagonist – the laziest accusing Azmi of being an ISI agent.

“Some said Dawood Ibrahim funded him. I found these accusations ridiculous. How can a lawyer blessed by the underworld live in a house that, even today, is in desperate need of a coat of paint? His brothers still live in a 1-BHK,” says Mehta. Thus, when some advised Mehta to paint Azmi’s character grey, he saw no point in it. “What would I achieve by doing that? The film would leave you with nothing.”

The largely favourable response the movie has garnered reassures Mehta. “My motive was to make the audience question their prejudices and the society we live in. I wanted to limit my story to Shahid as a beacon of hope.” This perhaps explains why the lawyer is never referred to by his full name even once in the film. “Shahid could be any one of us,” Mehta points out.

Shooting digitally with natural or minimal light and a unit the size of a cricket team, Mehta restricted the budget to Rs 85 lakh and lent the film a life-like feel.

Of the 17 acquittals Azmi secured in his seven-year-long career, the film touches on only two, and neither includes the 2006 Malegaon blasts or 7/11 train blasts cases.

“We had even shot the courtroom scene in which the Bombay High Court held the Arthur Road Jail superintendent responsible after many 7/11 accused claimed to have been thrashed in prison. But we realised the film was becoming too technical. So, we focused on his first and last cases, both of which he won. I took my decisions as a filmmaker, not as a chronicler,” he says.

In reality, Azmi was a cracker in court. Without breaking into a discourse on victimisation of Muslims (the reel Shahid, however, offers a rather ’emotional’ defense) Azmi, like a battering ram, would ask his questions with muted aggression, until the most elusive of witnesses would give in. What Mehta gets pat down is how Azmi was consumed by the idea of justice.

That said, the film gives no insight into how Azmi chalked out his defense strategies. Mehta has the good grace to admit that he had to dumb down the legal complexities to ensure that the audience doesn’t get put off. “When art is making a statement, it has to be accessible,” he smiles, “We had a lot of material that we didn’t use, because not all of it could translate into a scene. Also, for access to Azmi’s thoughts, I went through a lot of case papers he had drafted in simple English, not legalese.”

As for exploring Azmi’s love track with Mariam in the film (they got divorced before he was killed), Mehta says he didn’t want to delve much into his personal affairs. “A little brush of it seemed enough.”

While the first courtroom scene is closer to reality, the insides of the special sessions court in the second one seems like a grim imagination gone too far. Far from the brightly-lit, surprisingly pleasant venue of the 26/11 trial, the accused in Shahid sit locked in cages. The light is depressingly dim and the witness has no box to stand in; an oppressive image that borders on satire. “But that’s the point,” Mehta lights up. “This courtroom set-up was metaphorical – the crooks are out and the innocents are locked in a cage.” Mehta then takes a deep breath, and says, “Shahid set me free. I lived through him for these two-and-a-half years, and now, he lives inside my head. Somehow, I don’t find my obstacles insurmountable anymore.”


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#India – Brainwashing in VHP’s Durga Vahini camp – The World Before her #Film #Sundayreading


‘It’s the brainwashing in VHP’s Durga Vahini camp that shocked me’


A young Indian girl at a militant training camp proclaims, “We have learned to use guns and we’ll use them if we have to. We will kill people if we need to”. Another young child, attending a camp called Durga Vahini for the first time, is seen wearing jeans, a rebellious attitude and a mischievous grin. After ten days at Durga Vahini, she is ready to kill for her country.

Durga Vahini is the female counterpart of the Bajrang Dal, a subsidiary of the Hindu nationalist organisation Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). Canadian filmmaker Nisha Pahuja’s documentary The World Before Her chronicles the workings of Durga Vahini to stunning effect. Hers was the first film crew to be allowed inside the camp. Four years in the making and extensively researched, The World Before Her goes back and forth between a Durga Vahini camp and India’s fashion industry – two worlds that contrast, and surprisingly, even draw parallels at times.

]Courtesy: Facebook Courtesy: Facebook

Pahuja’s film follows the lives of Prachi, a twenty-year-old trainer at Durga Vahini, and a number of Miss India (2011) contestants. It’s a classic ‘nationalist’ point of view versus the ‘Westernised’. Prachi has no qualms about killing Gandhi or people of other religions who attack Hinduism, and manages to terrorise even her fellow Durga Vahini members. Ultimately, however, Pahuja is able to create empathy for Prachi, who comes across as a victim of a long-standing social campaign to brainwash women for political mileage.

Pahuja, who divides her time between Mumbai and Toronto, eschews sensationalism in The World Before Her, making it a balanced, understated and powerful film. It won the award for Best Documentary at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival and Pahuja is currently in talks with distributors to release the film later this year in India.

How and when did you find out about Durga Vahini? 

Nisha Pahuja: I found out about the Durga Vahini camps actually through Prachi. I met her in 2008 on my first research trip for this film. Just after five minutes of being around her, I knew I had found an exceptional documentary subject. She’s hugely charismatic – funny, strong-willed and intelligent. I remember there were a number of activists from the Bajrang Dal and Durga Vahini that I was meeting, and the men were definitely trying to dominate and steer the conversation, but she was simply irrepressible.

This is the first time cameras were allowed inside Durga Vahini. How long did it take you to convince the VHP/DV management to grant you permission to film them? What were their first reactions and what finally convinced them?

NP: It took nearly two years to get access. I realised early on after meeting Prachi that I would only be allowed in if people felt they could trust me. So I decided I needed to divide my time between India and Toronto, primarily to make inroads into the movement and to give people the time to get to know me. It got to the point where I was almost a normal fixture at Hindutva rallies!

I made it very clear to the organisation and the people I was meeting that I had real issues with their politics and their vision for the country. But I also emphasized that I had no intention of making a film that was sensationalist, demeaned them or judged them in any way. I simply wanted to present them as they see themselves and I wanted to try to understand them. After nearly two years of forging these relationships, they gave me permission.

Are you prepared for controversies and consequences of a theatrical release for The World Before Her in India?

NP: I don’t think the film is going to be particularly controversial. Elections are coming up and the RSS will try to avoid any kind of agitations. It is in their best interests to be non-reactive, especially as you point out, the film is not sensationalist. That said, yes, I am aware that there is potential for controversy, but I believe in the film. We’re coming up to one year since the Delhi Gang rape, and we have Narendra Modi poised to become an important force in National politics – that is terrifying to me. These are conversations that are important to continue. And the film was made with an intention to create a dialogue, not to further divide.

A lot of people ask me which of the two sides – the pageant world or the fundamentalists – did I prefer, and I have to say that in the end, I had more respect and affection for the Hindutva activists I filmed with. They were struggling with big ideas: right vs wrong, the direction India should take, what was their responsibility to the nation? They refused to embrace without questioning this new India where consumerism means modernity. I liked them immensely. I just wish they didn’t hate so strongly.

Have you showed the film to Prachi and her family? Has anyone from the VHP seen it? What was their reaction? 

NP: Yes, the film was seen by Prachi and her family and they all really liked it. Prachi’s dad is somewhat nervous still about the VHP response, but he was relieved that it was balanced and did not sensationalise. Interestingly, they all really liked, Ruhi the Miss India contestant I focus on, and they really wanted her to win! At the point in the film when the stories touch on female infanticide, Prachi’s father cried. I had no idea he’d be that moved. That screening actually is what gave me hope. I felt perhaps the two sides could actually empathize with each other. Ruhi, the Miss India contestant had the same response – she found Prachi fascinating.

Which was the most disturbing discovery for you while filming?

NP: You know, more than the physical training the girls at the Durga Vahini camp are given, it’s the brainwashing and the blood curdling chants they are taught that shocked and depressed me. On the bus ride they take en route to their parade, they learned a few phrases that I simply refused to include in the film. Those were the sorts of moments that were hugely trying for me and my crew as well. We saw how easy it was to manipulate young minds. As filmmakers we needed to be objective and not react, but as people we were torn between affection for the leaders of the camp and our rage and sadness at what they were teaching these young girls.

How did you react to listening and recording to Prachi and her family’s warped views on religion and culture?

NP: There were definitely some heated discussions! It was hard to get past what to me, felt like their blind hatred toward Muslims and Christians. And there were certainly times when I was completely exasperated by Hemantji’s (Prachi’s father) assertions that Prachi had no rights other than what he gave her. But in the end, their prejudices made me realize one crucial thing: that all of us and our belief systems – whether they be democracy, fundamentalism, patriarchy – all of them, like us, are constructs, products of time, place, and numerous other things beyond our control. Once I realized how fundamentally similar I was to them it became a lot easier to put their prejudices into context. That is not meant as an apology for the hatred or violence they espouse, but for me it became very important to see them through a different lens and to be free from malice.


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