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Satyajit Ray’s ‘Devi’ Shows How ‘Goddesses’ Are The Most Abused In India

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Remember young Sharmila Tagore’s kajal-lined haunting eyes from the black and white movie from 1960? “Devi” (The Goddess), by Satyajit Ray, is about a woman in a patriarchal Bengali household where she is pulled up from the servitude of men to a pedestal reserved for goddesses, overnight. A change too sudden for the benign, innocent woman who crumbles under the pressure, since she does not have ten hands or a lion to ride on. Unfortunately, she’s a little too human.

“Devi” is a Bengali black and white film based on a short story by Prabhat Kumar Mukhopadhyay. It is a study on how superstitions have the potential to ruin lives by simply stabbing rationality in the back. The film will incense the individual who hasn’t prayed even once.

Set sometime in the 19th century, “Devi” is the story of a zamindar family, where old and new age values constantly try to step on each other.

The film begins with Durga Puja celebrations taking place inside the family’s huge compound, culminating with the immersion of the goddess in the river. Actor Chhabi Biswas, who plays the patriarch of the household is a deeply religious man. Having lost his wife five years ago, he is well taken care of by his younger daughter-in-law (Doyamoyee), played by Sharmila Tagore. Her husband and Biswas’ younger son, played by Soumitra Chatterjee, is a learned man and finds it hard to digest the mindset of his father.

Everything is going fine until a dream of the patriarch in the middle of the night convinces him that his younger daughter-in-law is a reincarnation of a goddess. This dream motivates him to get up, go to Doyamoyee and bow down at her feet, claiming her to be a ‘devi‘. Unable to protest and influenced by the patriarch, his elder son does the same.

Overnight, the worship of a clay goddess inside the household takes a backseat and Doyamoyee is worshipped instead. The diya stand reserved for goddesses is moved around by the priest as the powerless ‘devi’ gazes into the abyss.

Sharmila Tagore in the film “Devi”.

Patriarchy and feudalism shamelessly ensure that a patriarch’s dream in the middle of the night changes the course of everyone’s life in the family. The stubbornness of an old man unable to see the absurdity of blind faith results in a tragedy. The tragedy lies in the fact that it was unnecessary and could have been avoided.

Biswas’ educated son is shocked to know all that has transpired upon his return and is unable to convince his father that his daughter-in-law is as human as anyone else.

The film is a tragedy, for the trio of superstition, patriarchy, and feudalism, without any mercy, wreak havoc on the lives of people in an aristocratic family. The patriarch, responsible for the mess isn’t spared either. By the end of the film, you’ll be convinced that the barbarity of superstition takes pleasure in harassing the old and the young alike.

However, the worst sufferer is the ‘devi‘, whose world of innocence, which centred around writing letters to her husband and spending time with Khoka, her brother-in-law’s son, comes to a premature end.

Devi’s pain is real and her cries are ignored. One question will certainly come to your mind after watching this masterpiece. Is Doyamoyee a living deity or a slave? And you will know the answer to the question.

Has there been any film that has had an ever-lasting impact on you? It may have changed your perspective of the world, your career choice or impacted you in any other powerful way. If yes, do publish here on Youth Ki Awaaz and take the conversation forward.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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