This week the Elon students all got together to watch and discuss the documentary The World Before Her filmed by Nisha Pahuja. This film explored the issue of gender and the Western influences on perceived gender roles. It began by introducing us to young women who hope to shape India’s future in very different ways.
Prachi Trivedi is a young leader of a fundamentalist Hindu camp for girls. Prachi has attended this camp around forty-two times and says she is prepared to fight for Hinduism if she is needed. She believes she was created by God to fight for the Hinduism movement, and has trouble identifying with either of the gender stereotypes. As Prachi is an only child, she explained that it is almost as if she were raised both as a boy and a girl at times. Throughout the film it is clear that she is unhappy with taking on the role of a female in India, to marry and have children, which her father describes as what women were created to do. Prachi, however, knows that within her culture women do not have the power to do anything else and realizes that she may have to give in to her father’s hopes for her. This is largely due to the fact that Prachi truly believes in violent resistance to Western culture and its influence, along with Christianity and Islam. This resistance has been known to be extremely prevalent throughout India. Women are terrorized for things that are very “normal” in the Western culture like dating, drinking, and the clothes they are wearing, for example. The Miss India pageant has caused many uprisings in the past as many see it as unacceptable.
The contestants of the pageants, however, and their families, tend to see them as opportunity. Ruhi Singh took pride in competing in Bombay for the title of Miss India. As women in her community are limited to what they can do, she went to the city and is making something of herself, as she explains. Her parents too are proud of her and wish her well as she poses for magazine photos and participates in the televised competition. Ruhi argues that adopting pieces of Western culture does not “destroy India” as many seem to think. She goes on to explain that it can be compared to trade and that with technology, products, fashions, and other fads are easily replicated and adopted globally. What is happening is simply modernization, not complete culture abandonment. Although Ruhi is sharing these beliefs, she is participating in a pageant in which she is itemized and exploited. During the film, for example, she takes part in a runway where she is covered in linens so only her limbs will show to better judge the contestant’s legs.
Both of these young women are fighting for beliefs that claim to liberate women, but are doing quite the opposite. After watching this film it seems, in India, Prachi’s father is unfortunately very correct when he implies that men have all the power and it is a male run society. It is clear we have only just scratched the surface of gender issues in India and we will only dive in further throughout this course.