From Beauty Pageants To Militant Training For Women: ‘The World Before Her’ Captures The Unseen

Posted on May 30, 2014

By Mayank Jain:

“Every man I meet wants to protect me. I can’t figure out what from.” – Mae West

Girls from the age of 15-35, dressed in traditional Hindu clothes with Saffron bands across their bodies march like soldiers of a battalion and they come to a halt, only to bow with their necks to a deity on the stage. An older woman starts talking about their ‘duties’ as a woman. She tells them to follow the lead of a male dominated society and be great mothers and daughters’ education and going out to work are denounced as being forbidden and the military training continues. This is how a typical Durga Vahini Camp looks in the documentary titled “The World Before Her”.

It is the third venture of Nisha Pahuja who has already directed two documentaries by the names of Diamond Road and Bollywood Calling. Nisha, who was born in India but raised in Canada, describes this documentary as a discovery of hers which wasn’t planned.

“World Before Her happened as I went along with the idea of tracking the journey of one Miss World Aspirant. It was my discovery of the issues that gave birth to the documentary,” she told us in an exclusive interview.

The movie is divided into two stories, one of which portrays the journey of Miss India aspirants and the other is on the far end of the spectrum which brings to light the training of women in these camps which are pervasive throughout the country and aim to ‘desexualize’ women.

The Miss India competition is a dream that many girls harbour at some point in their childhood and those who dare to follow it are the rare ones who find themselves on the cusp of popularity and fame which accrues to them for their numerous qualities and not just their beauty as the popular opinion goes. A typical aspirant represents the aspirations of the new India which is outgoing, daring and bold and yet becomes the victim of opposition and dogma that is forced upon it.

“I wanted to explore the changes in the Indian society post liberalization and industrialization. The idea was to take stock of the cultural changes happening in the new India and the way it affects people differently. An important aspect is the role this shift in society plays in shaping up our women’s aspirations and the way these aspirations shape the society in turn.”, said Nisha.

The other story though, is way more disturbing. Durga Vahini Camps are in the middle of this story. Durga Vahini is the women’s wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad which is one of ​India’s Hindu nationalist, allegedly extremist, organization, whose leaders have been in controversy for their violent and extremist remarks in their public speeches. The camps are aimed at providing combat training for women to counter “westernism”‹ and their aim as stated on their website is, “cautioning our sisters of the conspiracies of alien faiths like Islam and Christianity.” The trailer below will make you think twice about the society that we inhabit.

​The harsh reality portrayed in this trailer indicates clearly at the amount of wrong being perpetrated in the world in the name of ‘religion’ and ‘morals’.

The reason Nisha set out to explore these two different dimensions is because one led her to the other. Their inseparability is haunting.

“I originally set out to just do the Miss India story but I realized the biggest opposition to these pageants comes from nationalists and extremists such as those in Durga Vahini and my research led me to the camp where I was shocked to see combat training imparted to women just to prepare them for waging a war for their religion, Hindutva.”

The themes might seem too far apart but they aren’t and the women in India face victimization in rural areas by dogma as much as they face opposition in cities in the forms of stereotyping and objectification which assumes them to be walking pieces of flesh and nothing more.

The documentary weaves the story poignantly and takes you on the journey which depicts the way society intermingles the bad with whatever is left of the good. The movie spent 4 years in the direction phase and brings out the darker side of the glare of beauty as well as religious extremism that has been blinding us for far too long.

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