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In Because We Are Girls, one of the sisters, Kira, says, “I was a child!” One can hear how even as an adult how she still yearns for her parents to have taken her seriously, and taken a stand for her and her sisters.
Trigger Warning: This deals with child sexual abuse, violence against women, and parental neglect, and may be triggering for survivors.
Because We Are Girls isn’t just a documentary – it is a 1 hour 25 minute video diary of three sisters who have tried to explain the traumatic decades of their life, in this tiny window, yet successfully.
This was one of the rare times I watch a movie or documentary without seeing the trailer or reviews. A rarer experience when you stumble upon a thumbnail preview for a documentary, click on it thinking you’d give it a shot, and then end up sobbing your guts out realizing that there are some things that are just meant to happen. Some things you are meant to watch, because it resonates either personally, or just connects to the human spirit.
Jeeti, Kira and Salakshana Pooni come from an immigrant Punjabi family in British Columbia, Canada. They initially talk about their young selves, their personalities and experiences as brown children in a white country. While talking about their elementary years, Salakshana talks about how she gets nervous or still fumbles at times while speaking English, due to incidents in her school days. The sisters talk of how they also experienced racial discrimination and were bullied by others to ‘go back to your home’.
Their parents too were a part of the documentary and the mother describes being in a foreign land with 4 children, the three sisters and their brother, yet how she did not give them time and attention. Instead she was keener on inviting over her extended family from India to come and live in Canada – and not just in the same city or town but all under the same roof.
This is where, as the sisters described, that trouble was arriving on the plane. What happened after that is what nightmares are made of, though sadly this wasn’t merely a part of one’s imagination. This was altogether real.
The joint family concept which everyone is familiar with in India ended up making its way to their home too. More than a dozen family members, both adults and children living under the same roof which Kira describes as chaos. And rightly so. As all too often this does lead to intermingling of boundaries and zero personal space. Kira also mentions how this joint structure also meant that anyone had the right to discipline the children, it was not just the parents who could. This too ended as one always looking to the elders, anyone elder, as someone they had to obey.
The male cousin who too being older was looked upon as someone they had to listen to and refer to as “Paaji” (elder brother), did everything that went against the role of a brother, elder, and even just that of a human being.
From the ages of 11 to 17 each sister was molested and raped. It was only in their 20’s did they learn that each had been individually targeted and victimized by this man, believing prior that it was “only me”.
Years of trauma, trying to heal through the psychological and emotional manipulation, finally led these sisters to tell their parents what happened – not an easy feat, yet more so in a conservative Indian-Punjabi family. Sharing their trauma as sisters gave them the courage to file a court case against the cousin. As unheard of as it was to talk of sexual abuse in an Indian family (something that’s always brushed off as ‘nothing happened’), more so it was a big deal that this was taken out to the public in the form of legal action.
The documentary emphasizes how the impact of sexual abuse and the damage it causes to a person lingers for years, as these sisters say, well into their 50s they still are trying to heal.
Kira mentions how this impacted her adult life, relationships both emotional and sexual.
Salakshana mentions how she was in a bad marriage and chose to not give up her daughter. She says “had it been a son I may have”. But she chose to protect her daughter – safety that she did not receive. Nevertheless her childhood did impact her parenting and presence as a mother, which her daughter speaks of candidly yet with understanding.
Jeeti with her raw honesty, sharing with her husband and daughters her pain and healing journey, encouraging her daughters to always speak u against any injustice they encounter. Remarkable are these women, as I watch them dance to dhol beats, to think of what they endured and fought against, not just with the legal system but in their own family.
The latter part of Because We Are Girls hit a chord so deep that left me wracked with sobs as I watched Kira confront her parents and cry for her younger self and the woman she is today – as a daughter.
This part is the hardest to watch, as one hears Kira ask her father why he never looks at them in the eyes, hugs them or ever talks about the real issue or just extended support and ask her what she needs. This dialogue between them highlights just how deep rooted conditioning is in the Indian system.
How deeply engrained is it that one must not speak of things that can upset family relationships even at the cost of a child’s safety! Norms that imply that it is the girls who must be held responsible and blamed even when they are only children, shaming young girls for not being virgins even though this is on account of rape and the utter disregard for the impact on a girl in all aspects of her life – all too convenient thanks to societal and cultural conditioning that always emphasizes so called ‘family honor’.
Kira says during this piece “I was a child”. One can hear how even as an adult how she still yearns for her parents to have taken her seriously and taken a stand for her and her sisters. As her mother comes to hug her she says that a person, your own child, is drowning and is holding out her hand to be pulled out of this massive swirl and instead you push that child further down. It speaks volumes on the collective pain the sisters have dealt with, through decades.
Because We Are Girls is a story that pulls you in, more so as a woman, especially having experienced any form of abuse. It connects your soul to theirs, makes you cry with them, for them and perhaps even for yourself. But as you see them now, turning their pain into power, dancing with their family, you smile. For they are today the women they want to be, their true selves, their young selves being truly free.
You can watch the trailer of Because We Are Girls here.
Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month [CSAAM] is about taking back our power, our lives, even if it is years after it has happened. It’s a violence that preys on the fact that a child is vulnerable to both – the abuse itself, and to the guilt a predator burdens them with, effectively silencing the survivor. Add to that the fact that in majority of cases, the predator is someone the child knows socially, possibly in family, and who takes advantage of that fact.
We need to take this power away from these predators, and reclaim it by speaking up.
Read all posts here.
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Soul centric and free spirited all the while living life through travel and adrenaline junkie activities. Counselling Psychologist and Educator by vocation. And a life and laughter enthusiast by heart. Usually found daydreaming about her read more...
Women's Web is an open platform that publishes a diversity of views, individual posts do not necessarily represent the platform's views and opinions at all times.
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If you want to get back to work after a break, here’s the ultimate guide to return to work programs in India from tech, finance or health sectors - for women just like you!
Last week, I was having a conversation with a friend related to personal financial planning and she shared how she had had fleeting thoughts about joining work but she was apprehensive to take the plunge. She was unaware of return to work programs available in India.
She had taken a 3-year long career break due to child care and the disconnect from the job arena that she spoke about is something several women in the same situation will relate to.
More often than not, women take a break from their careers to devote time to their kids because we still do not have a strong eco-system in place that can support new mothers, even though things are gradually changing on this front.
A married woman has to wear a sari, sindoor, mangalsutra, bangles, anklets, and so much more. What do these ornaments have to do with my love, respect, and commitment to my husband?
They: Are you married?
They: But You don’t look like it
Me: (in my Mind) Why should I?
Why is being married not enough for a woman, and she needs to look married too? I am tired of such comments in the nearly four years of being married.
I believe that anything that is forced is not right. I must have a choice. I am a living human, not a puppet. And I am not stopping anyone by not following any tradition. You are free to do whatever you like to do. But do not force others. It’s depressing.