Fair Catch

In the village of Jhunjhunu, Rajasthan, the Rahad family has been looking for a bride for their son and, finally, they could be in luck. Satbir, the local marriage agent, has a girl for them from a nearby village. "When they brought her, we saw that she was from Bengal, a young, scared child. Nonetheless, for the sake of it, we asked how much we would have to pay for her. The agent answered, 'Rs 90,000'," recounts Suresh Rahad, the prospective groom's brother.

Though the Rahads refused the "sale", this scene from researcher and filmmaker Reena Kukreja's new film Tied in a Knot is a pointer to a disturbing reality. The lopsided sex ratio (among other factors) in several north Indian states has resulted in desperate men willing to part with money to marry girls from faraway regions such as Odisha, West Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. The film plunges into the dynamics of these marriages and the patriarchal throttle on the women who travel far away, often to another end of the country, to marry men from very different cultures. One young woman from Bengal says she didn't know why the women of her Rajasthani husband's family covered their faces. "We don't hide our faces in my home," she says.

"I was making a film on female migrant domestic workers, Delhi Bound For Work, when I found out about this issue. Several women who had come to Delhi from other states to work as domestic workers had been forced into marriages to men from Haryana and Rajasthan," says Kukreja. " Tied in a Knot attempts to look at everyday reality of women as they cope with living in a culturally alienating environment. It exposes the complexity of racism, casteism and caste discrimination," she says.

Her previous documentaries include Naka, Naka, DuPont Naka (No to DuPont) and Seeds of Burden, on young girls being employed in cotton-seed production in India, a child rights violation. Seeds of Burden was showcased at the International Human Rights Festival organised by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in 2004 and the India International Film Festival, 2003.

In Tied in a Knot, an hour-long film, Kukreja travels to 226 villages in Alwar, Rohtak and Rewari apart from Jhunjhunu to track down the stories of oppressive inter-region marriages. She also visits Balasore in Orissa, the parental home to many girls married off in Haryana and Rajasthan. "What struck me the most was the poverty. Most of these girls belong to small farmers or landless families. The families loved their daughters but could not afford the dowry that local men demanded," says the filmmaker.

Kukreja says that speaking to the women unfettered was a challenge while filming. Wisened by satellite TV, the villagers were nervous that Kukreja was a sting reporter or would show them disparagingly in a reality show. Helped by several NGOs, Kukreja managed to break the ice and filmed around 47 hours of footage. The final cut paints a poignant picture of young girls in unfamiliar surroundings trying to build a home against all odds.

The film will be screened at India International Centre today at10 am. Contact: 24619431

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