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

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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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  1. Babar

    Please pardon my lack of knowledge but I am not sure what modernization of India and/or empowering women has to do with having uncomfortable girls wear the bikini in beauty pageants (video 3, 3:00 onward). Also, I am appalled at video 2 (playlist 2/8) where a girl is asked to show her “Miss India” smile, then another undergoes the botox injection, and yet another is told how a part of her face is not perfect, and then the audience is has to watch her squeal in pain, as she becomes ‘perfect.’ False notions of beauty are re-emphasized through these pageants, where billions of dollars are being spent on plastic surgery and fashion and diet products the world over by perfectly normal girls who are made to feel that they are not normal – it is a business strategy. How else will these industries prosper?

    1. tulika

      dat is da lesson we get from both video dat women are empowered in none dese life….
      forcing a women to wear bikini to achieve something or forcing her to wear burkha are da same things…

    2. tulika

      dat is da lesson we get from both videos dat women are empowered in none of dese life….
      forcing a women to wear bikini to achieve something or forcing her to wear burkha are da same things…

    3. tulika

      dat is da lesson we get from both videos dat women are empowered in none of dese life….
      forcing a women to wear bikini to achieve something or forcing her to wear burkha is da same thing…

  2. Gaurav

    both the videos represent two options that women have, but both the options reinforce the male perspective. both the videos may seem liberating to some but both the videos had things objectionable. the film is truly stimulating and should be helpful in helping women understand the issues they face and come up with the solutions. each issue/subject needs to be explored in a similar fashion to be able to proceed in the right direction. trying to stop anyone from doing what they believe is right will not be helpful though. best of luck to all

  3. Prashant Kaushik

    ~~ Do I really need to ponder for long to decide which of the two women, one who spent her life in gaining a plastic beauty over her face and the one who sweat hard to gain muscles of steel, would be better able to defend herself and stand with a lasting confidence in this world ?
    If one thing women must do, it should be to stop trying too hard to look gorgeous. When you try to look beautiful, you automatically accept the authority of someone in opposite sex to certify your worth. Be yourself and don’t try too hard to appease we menfolk, least by your appearance.

    I am just getting goosebumps imagining if I can be lucky enough in my life to get a wife who is strong and confident enough to scare herds of men. I would definitely rate her far more appealing than an eternal fair & lovely damsel in distress.

    ~~ Today, I was traveling in metro in the last train @11:30 Pm. Saw a girl (with her husband) sitting opposite my seat. She was pretty, beautiful and a sensible person. Then we saw her husband becoming a laughing stock before the whole crowd for his partial loss of sense and talking utter non sense. He was arguing with fellow passengers, occasionally falling on her wife’s shoulders not being able to sit straight. Through out the 1 hour journey, we could sense the embarrassment the young women was feeling because of the senselessness of her silly husband. I tried my best to show my ignorance to his stupidities and show respect to her un-respectable husband so as too lessen her embarrassments.

    Anyways, You know why the guy had such loss of mind ? Because he was under influence of alcohol. I could nt believe a husband accompanying her newly married wife in a state of drunkenness at midnight in a city as notorious as Delhi-Gurgaon. I have never understood what is so glorious about being intoxicated. Traditionally, Women have had one strong point over men, that they have not been in addiction and thus have more been in control of themselves. So rather imitating men over this weakness, it is more suggestible if they stay away from such poison of life. I don’t think it is necessary to make such hue and cry if some people go a little far in keeping them away from this alcoholism.

    1. Kirti Sahai

      Excuse me, as a girl i do not believe I am put on earth to please people by my looks. I think I have better ways to make my presence felt. And as for the grooming you are talking about, we love to dress smartly and carry ourselves with an air of grace and poise , because we love ourselves that way!

  4. Gaurav

    on second thought I would have to say that all women should join both the groups but not go the whole hog to please anyone, instead in moderation both the options will benefit women. for example it is ok to go to the gym and also to self defense classes. besides it will be an opener for women and they will have a better world view considering that both kind of men would be out there.

  5. Gaurav

    it also needs to be pointed out that the videos highlight the seemingly illogical aspects for example the durga vahini video shows an elderly women talking about age of marriage among other things. but the bottom line is that such camps offer much more than unsolicited advice, they help women with discipline, teach them to organise and instill courage and confidence, a nation and a society should not ridicule these efforts rather try to modify them use them to your advantage.

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