In 2016, Be Inspired Films’ filmmaker Ravinol Chambers, and friend of TEDxLondon, set out on a 1,800 km Tuk Tuk trip in India to raise money for a local girls’ education charity. What started out as a fundraising trip became a personal journey to understand the challenges of gender discrimination and attitudes towards girls’ education. The challenges faced by girls in India are many and complex, often linked to entrenched traditional, cultural and religious practices. This led Ravinol to make Road to Vrindavan, a feature- length documentary of stories told by the girls, women and changemakers he met.
For International Day of the Girl Child, TEDxLondon sat down with Ravinol to hear an update on the story of his journey to make the film.
12 MILLION GIRLS ARE BORN EACH YEAR IN INDIA
1 MILLION DO NOT LIVE TO SEE THEIR 1ST BIRTHDAY
3 MILLION DO NOT LIVE TO SEE THEIR 15TH BIRTHDAY
1 IN 6 GIRLS DIES AS A RESULT OF GENDER DISCRIMINATION
47% OF GIRLS ARE MARRIED BEFORE THEY ARE 18
“A good friend asked me if I wanted to go on an 1800km roadtrip along the west coast of India in a Tuk Tuk to raise money for a girls’ education charity. At the time, I didn’t know much about the issue, but the charity’s main school was in the same village I lived in 20 years ago as a Hare Krishna monk. Being invited back to this village felt like an important sign to go.
As a filmmaker, I decided to film the journey and explore why, in a country where I learnt women were to be respected, are girls struggling to access education.
Once in India, we faced difficulties accessing the communities and girls we wanted to speak to. Due to long distances, we arrived at destinations later than planned; being unknown in these communities meant many people wouldn’t speak to us. Back in the UK, I put together a trailer to engage partners for the documentary.
I received lots of encouraging feedback, but also the challenge, ‘Why are you doing this as a man?’, ‘Will you be able to do the subject matter justice?’
It really got me thinking. I decided to consult with experts working in girls’ education internationally to share my experience and the hunch I had, that surely we must involve men in the effort to effect change in this area. When I interviewed Shikha Uberoi, one of India’s all-time greatest tennis players, she explained that if you educate a girl but don’t educate her wider community, then you “educate her into isolation”, as males in a girl’s family and community often feel undermined and threatened by a girl’s education. In order to help these girls access education, we must bring men and boys along on the journey too.
I decided to go back and spent another month visiting rural villages across India, hearing first hand from many wonderful young women and men who are stepping forward as role models for others in the community to effect positive change.
One story that really stands out is Manisha’s. Living in a rural Maharashtra, Manisha was once shy and quiet – that was until she was invited to become part of an action research project where she documented the lives of the girls in her village, the challenges they face and their hopes for the future. Through this project, Manisha and her peers grew in confidence, formed a committee and elected a representative to the Panchayat – the local village council, which was groundbreaking for this village. When we met Manisha, she stood out as a natural leader within her community. Manisha’s story shows that once girls are supported by their community to be heard, they are able to effect powerful change.
As a filmmaker, you are primarily a conduit for other people’s stories, so it was imperative to hear the voices of girls, women and communities directly. But I also had to be honest in my storytelling and show how my own experiences were part of the stories we were hearing. Having been a celibate monk in my twenties, I lived in a part of India that held very conservative views about women and girls. Returning to the village after 20 years and hearing these views from a senior monk was extremely challenging. Every man – regardless of their background – is working through their own views and attitudes towards women. I want Road to Vrindavan to show that anyone can go on this journey, to change their mindset and support girls and women worldwide.”
“Girls are like butterflies who can fly but they are caught in the net of society, restricting them from flying free”
Road to Vrindavan is planned for release in 2020.