In the land of women
It’s an obscure hamlet in Kashmir perched on the mountain that ironically goes by the name of Dardpora that would translate to ‘painful’. Apt when you learn that the 250-odd women there are either widows or ‘half-widows’.
“By half-widows, I mean that the men have been missing for over 10 years, but since their bodies haven’t been found, their wives still believe they’ll return,” explains director Ashok Pandit, who spent a fortnight there filming his next documentary, Village Of Widows.
Originally from Kashmir, the director knew of this tiny village that’s devoid of adult men and is home to just widows and orphans. Over two decades, almost two million lives have been lost in the Valley. Dardpora, being on the Indo-Pak border, has lost its men to terrorism or military crossfire.
“Poor and ignorant, they were brainwashed into joining terrorist training camps across the border and on their way back, gunned down in the crossfire,” says Pandit, adding that today, with no men to protect and feed them, the women are forced to work or beg. “They go into the city twice a week and live off alms; some are even sexually exploited. The 70-80 kids are growing up wild, some living on grass-boiled broth. The older girls are in danger of being abducted by terrorists, and the boys in danger of being recruited by them.”
In the 66 years of Independence, no NGO or human rights activist has offered them any help. Media visits have come to naught, and now the media and male outsiders are no longer welcome. Pandit gained access through local friends.
Produced by Bhandarkar Entertainment, the documentary was involved in a prolonged battle with the censors over shots of a national flag being burnt and women criticising the state and central government.
“It was finally cleared by the tribunal. Now, I’ll be sending DVDs to media houses and TV channels to ensure that the plight of these women, finally makes national news, says Pandit.
He also plans to take the documentary to film festivals abroad and wants to return to the village with theatre actors to film a feature.
“I’m halfway through a script; it will be more fictionalised, but will still highlight their plight.”