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Where women are extinct: Matrubhoomi

reuters

Posted: Jul 23, 2005 at 0943 hrs IST

What happens to a woman who is born in a country where females are almost extinct?

She becomes a valuable commodity who is sold off to five brothers and their father, and then gang-raped by villagers who take turns under cover of a caste war since that's the only way to have contact with a woman.

Welcome to the dark world of director Manish Jha's film, Matrubhoomi (Motherland) - A Nation Without Women, which has struck a chord in India even though it lacks the typical Bollywood song-and-drama formula.

It's a future without women in a country where today young brides are burned to death over dowry, where female foetuses are aborted and baby girls strangled or left to die.

"I wanted to examine the emotional and psychological impact of a society without women," said the 26-year-old Jha. "It is a very extreme situation ... a whole nation without women.

"It is usually comedies that work here ... but the film has to be dark and brutal. People get offended by the film. It is a very black film."

Matrubhoomi has won awards at film festivals across the world and Time magazine ranked it one of the top 10 films of 2003, but it has taken two years for it to be released in India because distributors and theatres were reluctant to screen a movie so far removed from the Bollywood formula.

But since its release on July 8, audiences in Indian cities have poured in to theatres to watch a film that has sparked fierce debate.

"The movie conveys the brutality against a girl child in a very powerful way," said university student Vipul Tripathi.

"Everyone in the audience seemed stunned."

CRITIC LEFT BREATHLESS

Critics have called the film brutal and hard hitting. One reviewer in The Indian Express said she could not breathe for much of the film.

But some activists say the film portrays women only as sex objects and ignores the other consequences of the dwindling number of women in some parts of India.

"It is not just about sexuality. For us it is a human rights problem, it is a murder. How do families that murder their babies sleep at night?" said Kamla Bhasin, a founder member of Jagori (Awake), a women's group.

In a country where newly wed brides are blessed with the saying "May you be the mother of a hundred sons", the ratio of girls to boys has become increasingly skewed over the years.

In some areas, there are now fewer than 800 girls under the age of six for every 1,000 boys, compared with the world average of 1,005 per 1,000.

New Delhi, the capital, has one of the country's lowest girl-boy ratios -- 865:1,000. People pay slightly more than $10 to test the sex of an unborn foetus and female feticide is becoming common.

Some studies estimate that more than 1.5 million female foetuses were aborted across the country between 1996 and 2001.

Many Indians want to have sons who they feel will grow up and earn money and look after them in their old age. But a daughter is seen as a burden to be married off with dowry given to her husband and in-laws.

"It would be pretentious of me to think that the film could change things, but a lot of magazines have now started covering the issue of female foeticide (after the movie)," Jha said.

($1 = 43.4 rupees)

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