Interview with Radha Bedi: 'India: A Dangerous Place to be a Woman'

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  • Radha with Neena, the eldest at an orphanage for abandoned girls. Radha with Neena, the eldest at an orphanage for abandoned girls. Photo by: Radha Bedi
  • Radha meets Moushimi who was savagely moleststed and stripped in public in the eastern state of Assam. She spoke to Radha of that frightful night after attending a friend's birthday party. Radha meets Moushimi who was savagely moleststed and stripped in public in the eastern state of Assam. She spoke to Radha of that frightful night after attending a friend's birthday party. Photo by: Radha Bedi
  • Radha with acid attack survivor, Tuba. "She is the bravest girl i have ever met," says Radha of Tuba. Radha with acid attack survivor, Tuba. "She is the bravest girl i have ever met," says Radha of Tuba. Photo by: Radha Bedi
  • Radha on her way from New Delhi to Punjab Radha on her way from New Delhi to Punjab Photo by: Radha Bedi

NEW DELHI, June 28 2013 — Radha Bedi is a 28-year-old British Indian who travelled to India in the aftermath of the gruesome gang rape of a 23-year-old medial student in New Delhi in December 2012.

Radha spent time with women and men affected by violence across the country,resulting in an hour-long BBC documentary through which she tries to understand the situation faced by Indian women.

The documentary,”India: A Dangerous Place To be A Woman,” aired last night on BBC Three at 9 p.m. International airing times are to be announced. Radha Bedi introduces us to the women, featured above, that she met.

Q. What is your documentary about?

Bedi: “India: A Dangerous Place To be A Woman,” is a BBC documentary about my journey as a young British Indian woman, returning to my motherland, exploring the reality of life for the women and girls in India.

Q. What made you think of this documentary idea?

Bedi: As a journalist working in television news and documentary, I maintain a key interest in untold stories from South Asia and in particular my ancestral homeland, India.  The initial idea came about after a previous visit to India last year. And of course, in December the world came to know of the unprecedented Delhi Gangrape case. I was shocked. 

I tracked the story like a hawk, the more I read and watched, the more I became aware that for women in India, it’s the unwelcome reality every time they step out of their front door. I knew this was a strong story and coupled with the high profiled Delhi rape case - I knew I had to tell it.

Q. Tell me a little about your experiences while shooting for this documentary?

Bedi: During the making of this documentary, I met many young girls and women who had been a victim of all kinds of horrible sexual harassment. I met a 15-year-old girl from the eastern India state of Bihar, who had acid thrown over her entire body for simply not wanting to talk to a boy in her class; to a young female from Guwahiti in the north eastern state of Assam, who had been severely molested and stripped of her clothes after leaving a birthday party at around eight nine o’clock in the evening, all the while having her ordeal filmed by a local journalist.

Even my own cousin from a small village in Punjab in northern India who I hadn’t seen for a decade, told me of her own personal story concerning her first born child. When her daughter Liza was born, her father in-law rejected her granddaughter and was upset, simply for the fact that Liza was born a girl and not a boy and it took a while for him to come to terms and accept her.

I then visited a girls orphanage, also in Punjab - a home for abandoned girls. Veena, the lady who runs the orphanage, takes in any girl of any age - baby or child and raises them as her own daughters, educates them and helps the girls become independent and when coming of age finds them a suitable boy and family to marry - without demands for dowry. 

In another part of India, Pune, I met a doctor who runs a small hospital who makes a point of celebrating every girl child born and educates parents and families to come to terms with accepting their girl child.

In Delhi, I met an upper class Indian female who is currently engaged in a long legal battle of taking her in-laws to court on grounds of female infanticide and for allegedly forcing her to have a sex selective abortion after her husband and in-laws discovered she was pregnant with twin girls. As you can tell there are so many tales. I met former Miss India 2009 and now rising Bollywood star, whose own mother battled to save her from being killed - again because she was born a girl. I met a poor family who has three young teenage daughters. The mother has been living each day in extreme worry as to how she and her husband will manage to marry off her daughters. The experiences were vast.

Q. What was your hardest moment during this shoot?

Bedi: Two moments come to mind. Meeting Tuba, a 15-year-old girl who suffered from a horrific acid attack last year in September 2012 touched my heart in a profound way. I have never met someone who had acid thrown on them.

It’s very difficult to put into words, when I first saw Tuba. The first thing that struck me was her face and in particular her loud breathing. The acid had so severely burnt her face that Tuba cannot not move her lips or open her mouth. 

Tuba told me she was on her way to daily tuition class, a routine walk she made every day when she was attacked by four boys, one of them from her class. Insisting Tuba should talk to him, she walked on and rejected his advances. Her rejection damaged his ego. So one of the boys splashed acid from a two-litre Cocoa Cola bottle in her face. At first she thought it was boiling water because of the burning sensation. She never thought it could possibly be acid. When she bent over to cover her face, screaming, the boy then poured the remaining acid from the bottle over Tuba’s back, shoulders, arms and legs. It was only when her clothes had melted away, on-lookers knew it was acid and rushed to help her.

When I saw Tuba’s pictures before the attack, I broke down in tears. I remember turning away so Tuba couldn’t see me and I cried. I have never felt so helpless in all my life. Tuba was a beautiful young girl. What do you say, what can you say? I felt helpless.

Tuba told me her dream is to become a doctor and cannot wait to return to school to complete her studies. Her favourite subject is mathematics and she is a very talented Henna artist. I was lucky to have Henna painted on my hand by Tuba. She joked with me and said she’d paint Henna on my hands when I get married! Her attackers are in jail and the case is ongoing. They may have taken her face, but Tuba still has her beautiful personality, her warm heart and intelligent mind. Tuba is the bravest girl I have ever met.

Meeting the parents of the 23-year-old Delhi rape victim was another difficult and painful experience. I remember arriving at her family’s home, barely two small concrete rooms with white-washed walls. I’ve never seen pain like I did on the family’s face. Her mother was mute, could not utter a word. She just pointed to her daughter’s picture on top of a wooden bench. Her father showed me her university Physiotherapy results. He told me her dream was to become a doctor.

Her brothers used to look up to their elder sister for everything.

I sat on the side of the bed with her father and we talked about his beloved daughter. In Hindi there’s a well-known phrase that a daughter is a goddess of the home - ‘Ghar ki Lakshmi.’  He said, Jyoti wanted to improve her family’s standard of living, lift them out of poverty and give them a brighter future.

I asked her father what was the worst thing he had faced? He told me that a few days before she had slipped into unconsciousness, the biggest grief for him as a father was that he didn’t get a chance to share his deepest heartfelt feelings with her. He told me he would not get peace until the five remaining men are found guilty. He said no family should ever have go through what they faced. It was their worst nightmare.

Q. What difference do you think this documentary will make?

Bedi: What I hope it will do is to raise awareness about how difficult it is to be a woman in India. The programme provides an outlook of the situation in India today. There is a lot of emphasis around the world on women empowerment and gender equality. I’ve met incredible women with incredible back-stories. I can’t make milestone differences, but what I can do is help India to take note of what is going on.

On a personal note, I’m trying to do all I can to help raise awareness to stop acid attacks in India having met Tuba. Also, in the programme, I visit an orphanage for abandoned girls in Patiala and today I still maintain a close connection with.

Q. Why is this issue important for India?

Bedhi: Since the Delhi rape case, we’ve read more about it and seen more in the media. But rape and other sexual harassment against women have happened long before the Delhi case.  I think this case in particular has caused such uproar and people are calling it a tipping point. Men and women across India had spoken up and protested against what has been quietly tolerated and accepted for too long.  They had openly criticized a patriarchal system that has traditionally blamed women for the shame and abuse of sexual attacks. 

Traditionally, if a victim was raped, she was usually told to forget about the matter, to think about her family honour. In the more rural parts of India, she’d be advised to marry her rapist, then it will not be rape and he would become her husband. Or some would say next time cover up more and don’t leave your home.  But now we’ve seen huge protests and movements, calling for change in India.

Q. Do you believe that change will happen in the future?

Bedi: India is going through a seismic change. Indian women want individuality, autonomy, and to be valued. All core values, which I take for granted living in the West. They imply need equality. And India is responding, albeit slowly. I’ve seen small improvements. I visited a new emergency helpline for women in Delhi and gender training for police. I’ve seen separate women helpdesks at police stations and fast track courts specially set up for crimes against women. Small changes will lead to big significant ones, but that doesn’t mean rapes will stop, crimes against women will stop.

It all boils down to mindset, attitudes, education, social and political change. I believe, the root of the problem lies within the home - within families. Indian mothers need to raise their sons and daughters as equals. They need to break the deep-rooted patriarchal cycle of placing more importance on their sons and less value on daughters. This is where the change in attitudes need to take place first and foremost for any change to be significant.

India: A Dangerous Place to be a Woman airs on 27th June 2013, BBC3, 9 p.m. - UK only. Dates for worldwide transmission are to be confirmed.   Future broadcasts include Mon, July 1 and Friday July 5 on BBC Three. The author was interviewed for this documentary


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Sabrina Sidhu

A communications expert, a former journalist, an Indian, Sabrina Sidhu has worked for international organizations in India, Bhutan, Paris and Uganda. When not advocating for greater public good, she loves to read, travel and learn languages. She speaks English, Hindi, French and Punjabi. Sabrina calls herself the nomad, having studied in 10 schools across India, and having completed her higher studies in India and France. She feels that the greatest thing about being a nomad is that you never stop learning about people, cultures and languages. 

 

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