Film Assignment: Water
Child marriage is an illegal tradition that still thrives in much of India. Every year millions of girls in India are married as children, some of the girls are as young as 4 years old. The impact of this practice can create many issues for young brides. One of these particular issues is illustrated in the film, Water (Deepa Mehta); which focuses on the life of a young child widow. The film is based in the city Varanasi in Northern India during India’s pre-independence era; however, this practice is still alive and well within today’s Indian culture.
The Law of Manu, the sacred Hindu text, states “A widow should be long suffering until death, self-restrained and chaste. A virtuous wife who remains chaste when her husband has died goes to heaven. A woman who is unfaithful to her husband is reborn in the womb of a jackal.” For children widows such as Chuyia, the seven year old girl in the movie, this means a long life of deprivation and solitude. The desolate fate that awaits Chuyia and other young widows is an example of the troubling gender inequality within India. Widowed women are expected to live in poverty and diminished position within society due to the notion that when their husband dies, half of widow dies as well. During a scene in the movie, Chuyia youthfully asks a priest where the temple for the widowed men was. Sternly, the women of the ashram tell Chuyia that men do not have to suffer a similar fate as widowed women. This scene highlights the inequality that women face in traditional Indian culture. Not only do men have superiority over their wives during life but also in death.
The sacred Hindu text gives three options to widowed wives; either burn with their husbands body, lead a life of self-denial, or marry the young brother of their dead husband. With such bleak opportunities, widowed women face a meager existence. The traditional role of women in India is servant to their male counterpart; as a child to her father and as an adult to her husband. The Laws of Manu state that men are gods, and should be worshiped by their wives in life and in death. These sacred texts although written 2000 years ago, still provide a standard for Indian society. These regulations have crippled women in Indian culture, making independence and equality a taboo notion. As in the scene from the movie, where innocent and ignorant Chuyia is confused by the idea that men do not face an identical fate of widow women, so am I in regards to women’s inequality in India.
The traditional role of women in Indian society is one of lesser status than men. However, actions have recently been taken to decrease this once stagnate condition. During the film, which is based pre-independence, the teaching of Mahatma Gandhi is frequently quoted. Gandhi believed in gender equality and prosperous lives for all widowed women. Gandhi believed that widows are strangers to love and that nobody should be a stranger to love. Re-marriage of widows has now become legal within India, thanks to the help of Gandhi and other women’s rights activists. Sadly though, this concept is still often culturally forbidden. Men are capable of taking new wives and partaking in sexual activities with whomever they may please; whereas women must practice abstinence and be virtuous even as a widow. In the film, Narayan’s father is even quoted saying “Brahmin (men) can sleep with whomever they want; the women they sleep with are blessed”. This idea of male supremacy is so heavily ingrained into the India culture, that although Narayan’s father had willingly raped a widow, he still believed it was in the best interest of the women because she was in turn being “blessed”. Although, little detail is given about the rape of young Chuyia one can conclude that this man also believed the same notion that validated the taking of Chuyia’s