Coming from Assam, where women are more liberated than their counterparts in other parts of the country, Merajur Rehman Baruah finds gender-based discrimination and its tacit endorsement by the society very disturbing. And to fight against the same, he took up the medium of films. “The issue of discrimination based on gender has always been an issue of concern. Our laws, rituals and customs are predominantly patriarchal. Born into a Muslim family in Assam, I was not used to seeing women being treated differently,” recalls Baruah. But his departure to Delhi in 1990 turned out to be an eye-opener. “In 1990, when I moved to Delhi to study, I could never see a woman wearing a burqa. And when I learnt that this culture of attire is not by choice, but imposed, I had issues with it. I wanted this to change, which is why I started making documentaries to create awareness,” he explains.
The Macabre Dance in Assam
His latest project “The Macabre Dance, a documentary, deals with the issue of witch-hunting in Assam. Some tribal communities, including the Bodos, have been allegedly killing women in the name of witch-hunting. Women, widows in particular, are sometimes branded as ‘witches’ either by their family members or villagers and are killed, chopped into pieces and buried in different places, says the award-winning director. “Not just elders, even kids of the village participate in the whole ritual. It is more exciting than gory for people, as the elders, again males, who announce the punishment, are proud of their judgment. In most of the cases, it is the women who suffer, but sometimes, the whole family has to bear the consequences. They are either killed or banished from the village. It is shocking as sometimes, family members themselves bring this on a widow in the family, in order to prevent her from inheriting her husband’s property,” he says. Baruah himself witnessed the massacre of a whole family during the course of shooting the documentary. “I shot them, but did not include it in my documentary as I didn’t want people to see the gory side of this incident, but wanted to convey the silence of violence being faced by the victim. Such an incident happens every second day and sadly, there is no record of the crime nor a law to punish the culprits,” he says. The documentary will be aired on Doordarshan soon and Baruah is also planning to send it across to various film festivals.
Shifting Prophecy at Doc.Splash
His documentary “Shifting Prophecy” will be screened on March 21 at Lamakaan as part of the ongoing Doc.Splash documentary screening festival. It talks about the struggle of rural Muslim women, in particular Daud Sherifa Khanam, who fought the sexist rulings of the conventional jamaat (a group of Islamic male elders who decide on issues of marriage, dowry, divorce etc) and patriarchal social order in Tamil Nadu. “Sherifa’s revolution now has gained so much prominence that the world’s first ever women’s mosque is now under construction in Pudukottai in Tamil Nadu. A movement of more than 10,000 women perhaps achieved the impossible and now, they have a place to go and pray. There is a change and women facing more or less similar problems will definitely relate to it and speak up for themselves,” Baruah hopes.