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Kajarya, a film that is winning accolades all around the world, explores the social settings of a village in Haryana, and how they contribute to female infanticide.
A feature film deliberately made like a documentary, Madhureeta Anand’s Kajarya is a critical take on the social mores that prompt female infanticide.
Set in a dusty Haryana village, located only a few hundred kilometres from the national capital, this award-winning film questions the cultural set-up that discriminates against the girl-child, and has led to 3 million girl-children missing in the Indian population – owing to infanticide and foeticide.
The narrative is through the lens of a rookie reporter, Meera Sharma, who, much to her chagrin, is sent to do a routine story on the festivities that are held in a village temple. However, once she lands there, she senses some odd goings-on, and ends up with a major investigative news-story in her hands.
She is confronted by the crudeness of a discrimination that she had only sensed as a girl growing up in a middle-class household. The birth of baby girls is no occasion for celebration; but in the village, it means the snuffing to death of a little child. She also realizes that the woman at the centre of this macabre ceremony of sacrificing baby girls who survive foeticide – Kajarya – is doing it as a means of survival following widowhood.
Kajarya is herself a victim of a cruel marriage that bound an adolescent bride to an old man, who died in an year’s time, rendering her a widow.
In a village caught in a time-warp, a young widow like Kajarya cannot survive unless she clings onto a strong oak. Kajarya chooses to lean on her male protector and comrade-in-arms, who drugs her into a trance, and uses her as a conduit to sacrifice unwanted baby girls that the village community wants to put to death.
Once Meera’s story grabs national attention, Kajarya is sentenced to be hanged. Kajarya matures overnight, and ultimately gets her accomplices – the temple priest, and her paramour – picked up for having planned and executed the deaths of innumerable girl-children.
For Meera, too, the experience of a backward Indian village and its values, awaken her to the hypocrisy and discrimination practised against girl-children by well-heeled socialites in the city.
Although the acting is stilted, the issue is well-etched out. Kajarya’s lone friend, the hangman who works as a sweeper, and dotes on his little daughter, emerges as the sole voice of reason in a world gone astray. The discrimination against girl-children, the social milieu that has men ordering their wives and girlfriends about, and refusing to let independent, single women be, has been touched on in due measure by the film-maker.
Haryana, where the story is set, is notorious for having one of India’s worst male-to female ratio, such that 36 percent of its males have today ended up without a bride. The few that acquire brides, do so by paying huge amounts for brides trafficked from Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Kerala or Bengal.
The seething anger within Kajarya, could have been better explained, although one does empathise with a young widow who is condemned to a life of painful loneliness following a child marriage and needs to satisfy her sexual urge by leaning on a male who actually exploits her naivete. The other characters, including that of rookie reporter Meera, could have done with a little more fleshing out.
Technically excellent, the film has used the metaphor of Goddess Kali beautifully, to explain the dark hypocrisy of a faith that worships the Mother Goddess, while denying the girl-child the right to live. The message – calling on all good women to stand up against the injustice, manifested through a woman insisting on giving birth to a girl-child, hits one’s senses.
In spite of its sincerity, the film seems to echo the urban sentiments of the film-maker struggling to understand the complex realities of rural India and hoping to hit upon a magical, quick-fix solution; even when it has the little boys standing up defiantly to prevent their sisters from being put to death.
However, notwithstanding its little flaws, Kajarya is a dark, heart-wrenching film that gets us to question our values, and stand up to right the daily wrongs we so blatantly ignore. It is easy to see why this powerful film , which had its world premiere at the Dubai International Film Festival, won the Best Foreign Film ( Audience Choice) Award at the First Silk Road International Film Festival in China, and continues to draw accolades at many other film festivals the world over.
An independent journalist with over 27 years 'experience in the print and online media, and
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