Changing old perceptions

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On a mission ‘From the womb to the tomb, women are targets,’ says Nisha
On a mission ‘From the womb to the tomb, women are targets,’ says Nisha

It is difficult to change centuries-old perceptions overnight. Although crimes against women are being reported more widely, insensitivity against women and survivors of sexual violence persists. More worrying is the apathy of the youth, says Nisha Ponthathil, whose documentary — Maunam Pesumpoth (When Silence Speaks) — on violence against women in Tamil Nadu will be screened in Chennai on the second anniversary of the 16 December gangrape in New Delhi.

The documentary probes crimes against women and children in Tamil Nadu and focusses, especially, on the rampant practice of honour killings in the southern part of the state.

“The alarming increase in cases of violence against women across India disturbed me severely,” says the 35-year-old debutant director. However, after interviewing and having met a large number of women who survived violence, Nisha sees the “hopeful face of the next generation” in them.

“Most women who I met do not consider themselves victims of rape or domestic violence; they are working hard to bring about a change in their society,” she says.

According to Nisha, women who experience violence and sexual abuse complain more about the attitude of the police and the prolonged legal battle seeking justice. “The caste system also plays a vital role in making things worse and life miserable
for women in our society,”she adds.

Nisha plans to show the documentary in as many colleges and schools as possible across India. “Initially, I thought of screening it in schools and colleges in Tamil Nadu only, but since the issue is not limited to one state, we are planning to show it with subtitles across the country,” she says.

Maunam Pesumpoth took shape when Nisha was researching on the issue. “Producing a research paper didn’t satisfy me. I wanted
to do something more effective. I shared my thoughts with my family and documentary-maker friend Gopal Menon. It was because of their support and encouragement that I decided to make the documentary,” she says. Menon produced Maunam Pesumpoth.

Nisha believes that it is difficult to make the older generation unlearn what they have been practising and believing for years. “My motive for the documentary was to sensitise students on what ails our society,” she says.

Her message is loud and clear: “The younger generation has to accept violence against women and rape as a social vice. It concerns both men and women and it is our collective responsibility to weed it out.”

Be it poverty, conflicts, communal riots or caste-related atrocities, it is women who bear the brunt of the violence. “From the womb to the tomb women are targets, victims and survivors of violence,” she adds.

Currently pursuing a phd on the writings of Mahasweta Devi, Nisha says the celebrated Bengali writer’s life and writings have influenced and shaped her notions about the lives of women in Indian society. She says that this has in a way led to the making of the documentary.

“I won’t dare to call myself a filmmaker as I am still not well-versed in the technical aspects of filmmaking. I’ve tried to document and visualise what I wanted to write in my research paper for a larger reach,” she says

The two-hour-long documentary deals with different forms of sexual violence that women are subjected to, from female foeticide, infanticide, child abuse, child marriage, sexual harassment, rape, domestic violence, dowry deaths, trafficking, acid attacks, honour killings, cyber crimes and violence against women in conflict situations to violence against sex workers and transgenders.

Maunam Pesumpoth ends on a positive note showing the women as defenders of the society who strive for a better and safe tomorrow for all women.

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