Women’s Issues portrayed in the movie ‘Lajja’
‘Lajja’ is a story which primarily focuses on the issues which arise due to gender inequality and affects all women. Since time immemorial women have been fighting for their privileges, but instead of being treated as equals, women are victims to gender oppression. The movie portrays how being born a girl is the beginning of a heart-wrenching path for all women who are looked upon as mere commodities, and are treated as burdens in the society. In India, gender role socialization works in such a way, where a woman is not considered to be feminine enough if she does not act shy, coy and tolerate all that her husband does to her, as divorce is seen as a big taboo. The main protagonist of the story is ‘Vaidehi’ played by Manisha Koirala, who returns to India from the United States to save herself and her unborn baby from an abusive husband. Domestic violence is very common in Indian households, and can be psychological, physical and sexual in nature. People tend to take it lightly and women are expected to keep shut about it. When Vaidehi complains to her parents about her abusive marriage, instead of helping her to cope with it, they ask her to go back to her husband, as otherwise, society will perceive her to be characterless. During her stay in India, she encounters women across the social strata, while trying to hide from her husband, who even has the police in search of her. The women she encounters are ‘Maithili’, ‘Janki’ and ‘Ramdulari’, played by Mahima Chaudhry, Madhuri Dixit and Rekha, respectively. Coincidentally, all four of the women’s names are synonymous with Sita’s name, who is a goddess and a prominent figure in the Hindu mythology, Ramayana. Maithili’s story is a reflection of an ancient Indian tradition, dowry, that seeks to exploit the bride and her family in the name of marriage. Indian women are conditioned since birth to be a good wife, and those who choose not to get married are seen as defective. Dowry system takes advantage of this affinity for marriage which leads to higher crimes as women are abused when the groom’s family is dissatisfied with the amount of dowry. People curse when a daughter is born because they know getting them married will cost a fortune. The debt taken by the bride’s family peaks so much that in many instances the bride or her parents even have to commit suicide. However, in the film, we see Maithili taking a stand against this oppressive custom when she sees her father-in-law threatening to cancel the wedding repeatedly provided he does not get enough money. Janki is a theatre actress who is impregnated by her lover and to-be husband. But once he hears the lies made by the owner of the theatre, about his and Janki’s affair, he believes it in a heartbeat and abandons her. Janki then pours her heart out during the play ‘Ramayana’ about how the sacrifice of Sita, after she was rescued, is shameful as the act accused her of being unvirtuous. This also gave way to the tradition of Sati where Indian women were made to burn themselves alive if their husband had died, and the only substitute to this was completely isolating oneself and sacrificing everything else you hold dear. Yet, Lord Ram did not have to go through any of that. This outraged the audience and they attacked Janki, who suffered from a miscarriage. The society is quick to point fingers if a women has sexual relations before marriage, however, the men do not have to deal with anything, which brings to light the double standards catered by the society. Ramdulari is the village midwife, who was abandoned by her husband and had to work very hard in order to provide a good life for her son. She talks about the importance of women and also educates them about the wrongdoings of the village leader, Virendra and Gajendra. When Gajendra finds out about his daughter’s affair with Ramdulari’s son, he and his brother take goons to Ramdulari’s place, where they rape and burn her alive. Rape, one of the worst, yet a common, form of crime in India, is used to subdue women who stand up for themselves, to teach them a lesson. The victim’s clothes, habits, age, way of living, etc. are questioned after they are raped, which answers the question of why it goes unreported in many cases. Rape survivors go through intense trauma which either takes years to heal or they might also end up losing themselves by giving up their lives. Ramdulari is avenged by women like herself, when Vaidehi speaks about Gajendra’s truth, during his election speech. The movie also has Anil Kapoor and Ajay Devgn as ‘Raju’ and ‘Bhulwa’, respectively, who help Maithli along her journey. In the end, we see Vaidehi’s husband, asking for her forgiveness and to be reunited, which only showcases how easily she forgives her husband for all the abuses and trauma that she underwent. In India, especially in the rural areas, women are not allowed to study and are married off very early, hence, they have to be financially dependent on their husbands, which is usually the main reason why women do not leave their abusive husbands. The problems mentioned in the movie are sadly still very much prevalent to this day, and they will keep worsening if the societal system does not eradicate patriarchy and provide women with equal rights as the men. Rajkumar Santoshi, the director, intertwines some of those problems in the movie “Lajja”. However, in the movie, there are ‘heroes’ to save women from dire situations, which is far from reality. There would be no need to protect women, as they are more than capable of protecting themselves, only if a safer environment was created, where people valued women’s moral and fundamental rights, by educating and creating awareness among masses about these issues
Soni Bhattarai is a first-year BA, LLB (Hons.) student of National Law University and Judicial Academy, Assam. She is also a member of the National Service Scheme’s Intellectual Cell of her college which aims in providing service to the community. Apart from writing poems and articles, she also has a passion for dance- of all forms- but especially Bharat Natyam and she also holds a diploma in it.