02 November 2011

HINDUS BEHAVING BADLY #1: Treatment of Widows

In my attempt to show that being religious
is not a guarantee of moral behavior,
this post is just one in my series of reports featuring
the bad behavior of religious people, past or present....

Look for other posts showing the bad behavior
perpetrated by members of other religious groups.

This is my first post about Hindus. I was prompted to write it after viewing a movie called "Water" directed by Deepa Mehta.

Mehta received death threats while working on the film. Sets were burned and filming was disrupted by Hindu fundamentalists. George Lucas paid for a full-page ad in Variety to support Mehta in her struggle to make the film when Indian authorities shut down the production in India. It was later resumed in Sri Lanka under a different title to avoid attention.

The film takes place in the 1930s and begins when a young girl, Chuyia --age 7 ---is widowed and, by tradition, sent to live with other impoverished widows, where they wear white and have their heads shaved to "mark" them, and must beg in the streets. They are outcasts in a society with a religious tradition that believes even a widow's shadow is bad luck.

Of course, the fact that a child was married is appalling in itself, yet according to Holy Hindu Scriptures Chuyia is destined to live in a widows' ashram the rest of her life, for when a woman's husband dies, she has three options. One is to marry her husband's younger brother, if his family agrees. Or she may kill herself on his funeral pyre. Her third choice is to live a life of celibacy, discipline, and solitude among other widows and be shunned by the rest of society. But Chuyia is so young that she naively expects her parents to take her home.

She befriends a beautiful young woman, Kalyani, who is being pimped out by the head of the ashram (an older widow) to earn money to feed the residents. Yet, a man from the upper castes, Narayan, falls in love with Kalyani and wants to marry her. Although a new law is controversial, it permits widows to remarry.

When asked why widows are thrown out of both their own family's home and that of her dead husband, Narayan, gives the following explanation:
"One less mouth to feed, four less saris, and a free corner in the house. Disguised as religion, it's just about money."

There is some romance and even moments of humor in the film, but it is in no way a "feel good" movie. It is sad, appalling and maddening.

According to Roger Ebert:
"The unspoken subtext of 'Water' is that an ancient religious law has been put to the service of family economy, greed and a general feeling that women can be thrown away. The widows in this film are treated as if they have no useful lives apart from their husbands. They are given life sentences. They are not so very different from the Irish girls who, having offended someone's ideas of proper behavior, were locked up in the church-run "Magdalen laundries" for the rest of their lives. That a film like 'Water' still has the power to offend in the year 2006 inspires the question: Who is still offended, and why, and what have they to gain, and what do they fear?"

Although the film takes place in 1938, widows are still ostracized in India;

Read more about "Water" and watch a trailer on the Internet Movie Database.

1 comment:

Snowbrush said...

Wow, sounds like a good film.

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