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Women Of My Billion Review: Honest And Hopeful

May 03, 2024 12:46 IST
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Women Of My Billion is stark and disturbing, but at the end of it Srishti Bakshi is still able to say, 'My India is not beyond repair', observes Deepa Gahlot.

There are certain realities of women's existence in India that everyone is aware of, even if they are privileged enough not to have experienced discrimination or violence themselves.

But it takes remarkable physical and mental courage to do what Srishti Bakshi did -- embark on a 'walking pilgrimage' from Kanyakumari to Srinagar, interacting with women along the way, and learning firsthand about their problems.

Living with her husband in Hong Kong, she was unable to answer comments about how unsafe India is for women.

Like many, she was also an armchair activist.

But it was the news report of the gang rape of a mother and daughter on Highway 91 in Uttar Pradesh that led her to quit her corporate job and return to India to see things for herself.

She got the support of her family, the many who crowdfunded her project, and her father, an army man, planned the route of the journey.

She walked 38,000 km over 230 days, and along with her, the viewer understands just what the ordinary woman has to endure.

The film, directed by Ajitesh Sharma (and co-produced by Priyanka Chopra Jonas), begins with a woman weeping because her husband has beaten her badly.

The man says scornfully, 'It's just a slap, not a beating.'

If the general impression is that only economically backward women like Laxmi suffer domestic violence, then Bakshi and Sharma have three educated, middle or maybe upper middle class women, bravely talking about their ordeal.

So many women living in smaller towns may get an education but rarely get a chance to decide whom to marry, or if and when to marry.


Sangeeta Tiwari's parents were aware of the physical and mental issues of the man they chose for her but she had to suffer the consequences when the man died by suicide.

Widows are so stigmatised in India, she observes, that had she not been a doctor and gotten a job in the army, she would have been reduced to slavery in her in-laws' home. Her remarriage to a doctor was not a happy one and came with a new set of tribulations.

Neha Rai was married very young to a man chosen by her parents, and went on to suffer dowry harassment and horrific abuse. She got no support from her parents or even from the law -- the words she heard all the time were, 'It happens.'

Till the signs of violence were visible and her wounds infected, she could not escape.

Pragya Prasun Singh had acid thrown on her face by a man her mother had rejected as a groom for her. After the terrible pain and disfigurement she had to go through, it was a relief that her husband did not abandon her.

These three women get to tell their stories on camera but what Bakshi and her crew hear from so many women are now almost cliches of the underprivileged Indian woman's condition -- lack of education, preference of sons over daughters, over emphasis on marriage, the scourge of dowry due to which people do not want daughters, and the most terrifying, rape.

Bakshi meets the mother of a teenager who was raped and burnt alive, whose greater sorrow is that she birthed four daughters and no son.

Women are constantly told to keep quiet and not do anything to harm the reputation of their families.

Both Neha and Pragya were subjected to unwanted sexual advances -- the former by uncles, the latter by a tutor -- but could not muster up the nerve to speak up.

In the workshops Bakshi holds and the groups of women of all ages she interacts with on her arduous journey -- walking about 30 km per day -- she does see hope and joy.

Still, it is no surprise that when she asked a group of women who helped them open a bank account, not a single one said 'mother'.

Money is still a man's domain, and hence a source of his power over the women in his family.

WOMB is stark and disturbing, but at the end of it Srishti Bakshi is still able to say, 'My India is not beyond repair.'

Because women do rise above circumstances, and even if the progress is slow, it is happening.

It is an honest film, also a hopeful one.

Srishti Bakshi must have touched the lives of at least a few of the women she encountered, perhaps instilled confidence and optimism in some of them, and maybe changed the mindsets of some men too.

Women Of My Billion streams on Amazon Prime Video.

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