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Worldwide Locations

Mohini Giri: India's Voice for the Voiceless

Poster art for the film White Rainbows (2005).

Poster art for the film White Rainbows (2005).

Which religion?

Any religion. Religious places, yes, they're the worst. There a woman is most subdued, not only due to tradition, but because of religion. Because religion puts in certain kinds of taboos, and she’s bound by those taboos. It wasn’t like that for the Muslim women till now, but now, even a Muslim widow, she doesn’t get remarried, although the prophet Mohammed himself married a widow. And it is allowed according to the Qur’an. But even then, because of tradition, and mixing up all these cultures, even a Muslim woman remains a widow.

In the West, as I'm sure you know, the talk of India now is only about it emerging as a regional power, a world power, and economic growth and people making huge amounts of money. So the picture that you present, and indeed that is in this film, is very different.

Well, the picture that I'm presenting is really for the whole of India, 99 per cent of India. And the picture of nine per cent growth, of course it’s a picture of prosperity, people are earning more, people spend more, the consumer movement is very strong, and those who are making money are making money. But what is it to make money with the tradition and the mindset? Has that changed? While we have changed in money making, have we changed in the mindset? We have not.

What kind of effect do you think that the liberalization of India, the opening up of its economy, are likely to have on the way in which people perceive these kinds of traditions, traditions that bind women in the ways that you’ve described?

It’s going to have its effect sooner or later. Later, not sooner. But in the beginning it’s not going to profit women, it’s not going to help women, because these tradition-bound men, even if they come to America, or even if they’re of a developed society, their minds are still brought up in the way their mothers are brought up, or their parents are brought up, or the society is brought up in their childhood. So until such time that the second generation comes up, I won't say that equal status will ever be achieved, but we are waiting for that second generation to come now. In many places it has come, it has improved a lot, but it will take time. India is a large country with a billion population, and with that kind of a population, if I'm saying that this economic growth has touched everybody, I wouldn't be telling the truth. How can it? The villages are where they are. There’s still no electricity. I mean, they're trying very hard, but it’s impossible even for the government to do those things. Where is the power? There’s no drinking water. I feel so bad to take a bottle of Bisleri [Indian mineral water] when my thousands of sisters in the villages are drinking from the same pond where they wash themselves. India lives in two worlds, I would call it. A little part of India lives in the 21st century, and a major part lives in the 16th, 17th and 18th century.

How much is poverty responsible for the way women are treated? Here in the US and also elsewhere in the industrialized world, levels of domestic violence are extremely high, and most cases still go unreported. Now a lot of these women have incomes, and they're independent – whatever that means – and yet these problems persist.

I have a different view about the whole thing, it’s a very, perhaps, primitive view. My view is that we have not kept hand in hand along with the moral values. While we have developed so much, while we are starting to educate our children, while we are earning more money, we have not kept up with moral values. The value system somehow or the other has lagged behind, which used to be taught in the family. All of these values that we have inculcated must have been taught only in our families. Where else can you get it? And that is becoming less and less, because I think the parents are also in this fast world, they don’t have time for the children.