Sons and shadows

Vibha Bakshi’s take on Haryana’s skewed sex ratio and crimes against women

71-vibha-bakshi Top honours: Bakshi won the national award for her 2015 film Daughters of Mother India | Janak Bhat

When his elder daughter was born, Sunil Jaglan of Bibipur village, Haryana, offered to tip the nurses, as is the norm in hospitals. However, the nurses refused to accept it. “Had it been a son, we would have accepted,” they said. Sunil was bewildered by this reply, which he expresses in National Award-winning filmmaker Vibha Bakshi’s new documentary, Son Rise.

The film’s cinematographer, Attar Singh Saini, offers rich frames of pain, anger, disappointment and constant battles on the ground of gender inequality. Each person in the film has a story: About the skewed sex ratio in the villages, about sex-selective abortions, about women who were kidnapped from other states and made wives by men in Haryana, about those who suffered because they delivered daughters, and of those who have been abused and raped.

Bakshi developed the idea of Son Rise after she heard the story of Kusum from Jind, who was gang raped by eight men. On screen, Kusum does not cry or gets emotional, but just stares at the camera as she talks about what happened. “The camera had to be kept rolling to capture her emotions,” says Bakshi. The pain she endured has hardened her, it seems.

When a marriage proposal came from a man named Jitender Chattar, a farmer from Chattar village, she told him about the terrors she had faced. After their marriage, Jitender started a legal fight against her tormenters.

Bakshi came to know about this unusual story of the couple while she was touring with her previous film, Daughters of Mother India (2015), that portrayed what happened in the aftermath of the 2012 Delhi gang rape. Soon, she landed in Chattar.

The villagers guided her to Jitender, but they scorned him. That was when Bakshi realised that she should tell the story of not just Jitender and his family, but of people who despise the idea of fighting for a woman and giving her the respect she deserves.

The challenge in putting together the film was to make people comfortable enough to speak, says Bakshi. So, the smallest of cameras were used, and footages were recorded till the time every person speaking was comfortable about getting recorded. However, this increased editor Hemanti Sarkar’s load; she took eight months to edit the film.

The United Nations Women came forward to support the film. “We all know that a film cannot solve problems,” says Bakshi. “Our intent has been to stir up a conversation. We can see that happening now. With the UN lending its name to it, we have decided to take it to 71 countries. Gender bias and inequality is happening all over the world.”

The greatest moment, Bakshi says, has been the time when she screened the film in a Mumbai school for early teenagers. After the screening, the children were ready to donate for Chattar’s legal battle. He had lost the case in the district court, but hopes to take it to the higher courts. “He is willing to fight it,” says Bakshi. “And a score of people are willing to help him.”