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Battered Lives: Examining Gender-Based Violence in Documentary Films

By: Madhumita Basu

The ubiquity of gender violence and the lack of progressive laws is an endemic problem in Indian society. Sex selective abortions and increase in the number of female infanticide cases have become a significant social phenomenon in India. This paper explores two heartrending documentaries: Evan Grae Davis’ It’s a Girl: The Three Deadliest Words in the World and Madhusree Dutta’s Memories of Fear and interrogates the nexus between dowry, infanticide and feticide that completely dehumanizes women. Davis’ documentary explores the gruesome facts of gendercide and reflects how poverty and cultural norms lead to a male being more highly valued than a female. The film begins with a grotesque reality of an Indian woman standing in a homemade graveyard, narrating how she longed for a son and the manner in which she strangled all her daughters and buried them. Dutta’s non fictional film is an evocative portrayal of the interplay between sexuality, construction of fear and women’s own contribution to the system that continues to denigrate them. Both the documentaries problematize Indian woman’s position and highlight the many complexities and cultural challenges so extreme and entrenched that simply educating girls seems to be a limited endeavour. The analytical approach of this paper stems from the feminist studies of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Kumkum Sangari.


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