The Shame is Not Mine A Woman's Fight For Justice by Arun Chadha (2000)

LANGUAGE: English, Gujarati, Hindi ( Subtitles : English); DURATION: 36 Minutes; Winner of Golden Conch First Prize for Best Documentary at Mumbai (India) International Documentary Film Festival, 2000

In the Indian rural society where rape evokes shame and stigma for the victim, it is not surprising that most rape cases go unreported. Through rape of the women, powerful rural elites can show their power over poor and "low-caste" communities. It is a painful social reality, a brazen violation of the law of the land. Fear of further oppression and lack of support from families, communities and law-enforcement agencies, forces thousands of women every year to live with the trauma of rape while the offenders roam free.

a still from Shame is not mine, a documentary film by Arun ChadhaThe film tells the story of one such woman, who decided to fight for justice and through the process becomes a respected community leader. In a backward and deeply feudal part of Gujarat (India), Neeta Goswarni, refused to be a victim and denounced the "upper cast" men from Darbar community. Her husband fully supported her in this crusade.

Arun says, "Neeta's ordeal in the hands of her tormentors is reflective of a feudal society, something our country has not been able to shrug off even after 50 years of independence."

In the Saurashtra region of Gujarat in northwest India, feudal history and dismantling of the rights and privileges of the ruling elite after independence, has led to a schism in the society where the lower castes are in a state of constant terror of, or in confrontation with, the erstwhile powerful upper-castes. Neeta's story reveals how this situation has affected the fabric of society and the lives of individuals from poor and marginalised groups.

The film reveals how at the local level, police collaborates with feudal establishment. Only when Neeta decides to go the State authorities, the police decides to look in to her complaint. The film also articulates the response of the village community, the involvement of a cross-section of individuals and institutions, the role of intelligentsia, the media, human right activists, the legal system and the role of lawyers in dealing with the fallout of rape and the quest for justice. Through its reflections on the role of women in the upper caste families, the film denounces the oppression of women in Indian rural culture.

a still from Shame is not mine, a documentary film by Arun ChadhaMore than anything, it a story of individual courage and conviction. The film, through the chain of events in the life of Neeta Goswami after a brutal rape, reveals her inner strength and determination to take her struggle to its conclusion. The film shows not only how Neeta has survived her rape, but traces her transformation from a victim into a politically empowered community leader accepted by society.

Symbolic Treatment of a Deep-Rooted Evil

The Statesman, 17 March 2000

Arun Chadha's 40-minute short, "The Shame is not mine", which won the top award (Golden Conch) at the recent international film fest for short films, is a highly sophisticated treatment of the theme of women's empowerment in a nation where the fair ones have been subjugated for centuries and denied basic rights.

Whereas Shekhar Kapoor's overrated "Bandit Queen" stormed the box-office for its shock sequences, the sex and the rape scenes, including the one in which the protagonist is paraded in the nude, Chadha's documentary, which is also a woman who gains acceptance in the society after a gang rape, deliberately keeps the atrocity off camera and does not take recourse to tapping emotions or sentimentality.

a still from Shame is not mine, a documentary film by Arun ChadhaThe camera captures the post-rape happenings with clinical precision but from a distance and without a sense of involvement. It is clean short about a society in transition where a victim, aided by her husband, some good samaritans and even a couple of police officers, tries to seek justice. As the case is still subjudice, there is nothing about the court proceedings and no evidence is shown that may in any way affect the case.

Neeta Goswami, a married woman in her late twenties, from the rigid rural society of Saurashtra, is raped by the Darbars, the upper crust which calls the shots. Her initial efforts to even have the crime registered at the police station fail. Later under some pressure, the FIR is made but as coming from her husband, so that the accused gets bail and later the case is thrown out by the court. It is only when a PIL is registered in the high court that the judiciary takes up the case again.

An aged Gandhian and a former three-times MP is highly supportive and provides help for the cause. Meanwhile Neeta is elected sarpanch as there is a tussle between the Darbars and the Patel. But she loses the post as no maternity leave is granted to her by the local body and she is expelled.

a still from Shame is not mine, a documentary film by Arun ChadhaThrough Neeta's case, the short focuses on how even after half a century of independence, Saurashtra's social structure is driven by caste politics where the "upper castes" hold complete sway over the lives of "lower castes" who are forced to live in terror and any confrontation is nipped. But Neeta, who does not carry the stigma and scars of rape, moves and behaves like a normal woman who is brave enough to fight out her case against the feared Darbars.

The film is never heavy but has been embellished by symbolic shorts of a man on horseback chasing a village belle with an earthen pot. "What is the price of your beauty?" he asks.

A Story That Breaks The Silence

By Anita Joshua

The Hindu, New Delhi, 16-03-2000

Victim yet charged guilty. This is usually the lot of hapless Indian woman who falls prey to the lust of a man. So guilty are the rape victims made to feel after the assault on their mind and body that the crime more often than not goes unreported because of the 'no win' situation a woman finds herself in.

But Neeta Goswami, a victim of rape in a backward and feudal part of Gujarat, refused to be further victimised by society and locked horns with the system that still has not brought her justice.

While the case remains subjudice nearly a decade after the rape, this woman transformed herself into a politically empowered community leader and even got elected 'sarpanch'.

a still from Shame is not mine, a documentary film by Arun ChadhaThis braveheart would have probably gone unserenaded by the country but for the efforts of a documentary film maker who felt her story lent itself well to the visual medium.

And now that Arun Chadha's film has bagged the "Golden Conch" for the Best Documentary film in the national video competition at this year's Mumbai International Film Festival, Neeta's story has a greater chance of being noticed and - better still - emulated by silent victims of rape across the country.

Screened at Max Mueller Bhavan here this evening, the film titled "The Shame is Not Mine" is the story of individual courage and conviction. Chadha says that his aim was not to dwell on the rape but to show how it was used by the feudal society of Saurashtra - stripped of its privileges following independence - to maintain its stranglehold over the lower castes.

Having come out of the shadows in which society would have liked to push her, Neeta was courageous enough to talk to the camera and lend credibility to Chadha's effort to document her story. Through Neeta's experience he shows how the lower castes are in a state of constant terror of or in confrontation with the erstwhile ruling class.

Though Chadha has sought to tell Neeta's story, he refuses to be classified as an activist film maker. "I like to make films on subjects that are strong and lend themselves well to cinema." A diploma holder in cinema from the Film and Television Institute of India, Pune, the films he has to to his credit include 'The Temple of Goddess Earth', a film on sustainable development in tribal districts of Western India; 'Footsteps to the Millennium', a film on the status of polio; 'Folk songs'; 'Nai Manzil ki Nai Rah'; 'The Last to Sail'...

Making documentary films for the past two decades, Chadha's preoccupation is with health and social issues. "Social anthropology interests me a great deal and this is why I have made films on Armenians in India and the Orthodox Jews in Cochin."

Despite his fairly long stint with film making, Chadha claims he has never meandered into big cinema as have many documentary film makers. "Big cinema is infatuating, but there is the limitation of funds. Besides, I do not think I can fit into an outright song and dance commercial film. If I ever make a full-fledged film, I would want it to be aesthetically right."

Of the view that good fiction can be made only by someone who is a good documentarian, Chadha argues that making non-feature films can be equally satisfying, provided they find an audience. "Not only have we to struggle to make our films today, we then have to run from pillar to post to find an audience," says the film maker who believes efforts should be made to educate the audience in good cinema.

More works of Arun Chadha

Check the full list of works by Arun Chadha available on Kalpana.it