Jonathan and I watched a really good DVD on Saturday night called Water. It is a film based along the Ganges in India, at the rise of Gandhi’s fame. The film primarily focuses on the plight of many widows who get sent to live in special homes for widows, often far away from their own villages. These widows are shunned by society, they have to wear white clothes and have their heads shaved. They are not allowed to remarry as Hindu’s believe that this will curse the family and the widows chance of re-incarnation.
Now here is the sad thing, a lot of these widows are just children. They were betrothed to marry, and before they were old enough the man they were betrothed to dies. These girls are then considered to be widows and are sent far away from their families to live a life in isolation. Often the girls have not even met their future husband yet, got married or even had intercourse – but because of the betrothal they are considered to be married. The girl in the film was just eight years old. Gandhi is preaching about how society needs to change, widows should not be allowed to be prisoners anymore because of some ancient belief. He is preaching words of freedom and hope – sound familiar?
As of the 2001 census there were 34 million widows in India, most of whom were living in penitence.
Below is what Amazon has to say about the film – it is well worth watching.
Set against the epic backdrop of the River Ganges in 1938 during Mahatma Gandhi’s rise to power, this is the inspiring tale of an eight year old Hindu girl named Chuyia. Chuyia’s life is suddenly changed when she is widowed and sent to a home where Hindu widows must live in penitence. She refuses to accept her fate and her feisty presence begins to affect the lives of other residents, including a beautiful young widow, Kalyani (Lisa Ray of Bollywood/Hollywood) who has fallen in love with Ghandian idealist, Narayan (Bollywood star John Abraham).
When Deepa Mehta first began filming WATER in 2000, angry fundamentalist mobs burned her sets and threatened her life. The Indian government claimed it could not protect her, and the project had to wait four years before finally filming in Sri Lanka. Her film has raised the ire of extremists because it challenges the Hindu customs that dictate that widows, considered half-dead after the loss of their husbands, must be closeted in holy ashrams–a practice that still exists today. Set in the 1930s, the film tells the story of eight-year old Chuyia, whose husband dies before she even meets him. Her parents shave her head and whisk her away to a house of widows where the women sleep on the ground and beg in the streets to earn their puny portion of rice. Chuyia, feisty and resilient, comes into this world like a ray of light, and soon the women are rethinking their mute acceptance of their fate. Her closest friend and ally is the lovely Kalyani, and soon a forbidden romance begins to develop between Kalyani and Narayana, a young Brahmin man who, following the teachings of Gandhi, has denounced injustice. The film is sumptuously beautiful, Chuyia is utterly winsome, and despite the harsh social issues at its heart, it often feels light and lively: Chuyia and Kalyani play games and dance, Chuyia steals sweets for a dying old widow, the women dance and paint each other’s faces during a colour festival, and the Cinderella-story romance between Kalyani and Narayana shimmers with the promise of salvation and happiness. Mehta, however, knows it would be disingenuous to allow such an easy resolution to such a dire situation, and the final chapter of WATER takes a tragic turn.