Ayoti Patra, who is a PhD student in the US just couldn't believe the NASA scholarship news

Ayoti Patra, who is a PhD student in the US just couldn’t believe the NASA scholarship news

Since Ayoti Patra wrote on her Facebook note that Sataparna Mukherjee, the girl from Kamduni in West Bengal, has possibly not got a NASA scholarship, she has been bombarded with abusive messages but at the same time she has shown the right path to the Indian media (here is the original story) who quickly took up her lead. But who is Ayoti Patra and what made her take this step?

Here she is in her own words:

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a PhD student of Physics at the University of Maryland, College Park, USA. I did my M.Sc from IIT Kanpur and B.Sc. (Honours) from St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi. I have spent my entire childhood and did all my schooling from Hyderabad. Although I am a Bengali, I have been to West Bengal only to visit my relatives. I mainly spend my time on theoretical research on ‘Optimal Control of Quantum Systems’. Apart from that, I also listen to Hindustani Classical Music being trained in it.

Where did you first read about Sataparna Mukherjee and the NASA scholarship?

I subscribe to a couple of news channels on Facebook. I came across it in the Times of India, The Logical Indian, etc.

What made you doubt the credibility of the news?

The news article had not one but multiple flaws.

-Getting a single offer valid for graduation, post-graduation and PhD without even clearing the 12th boards is something that can NEVER happen in real life.

-One cannot get an offer for studying Aeronautical Engineering for a theory in black hole! To do research in black hole, you need to study Astrophysics which is unrelated to Aeronautical Engineering.

-She will simultaneously study English at Oxford University! This is impossible again.

-NASA, a federal agency of the US making an offer to an Indian for studying in UK! It has to be a big joke.*

* For the sake of completeness, I would like to mention that it is possible for an Indian citizen to work at NASA as a postdoctoral research fellow, as a contract worker or as a PhD student affiliated to a US university. My university is less than 10 miles away from the NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre, where my husband works. He is a PhD student of Astronomy at my university and works on a project at NASA. This is the official page of the project he is working on (http://asd.gsfc.nasa.gov/bettii/index.html). If you click on the ‘People’ tab, you will find my husband Arnab Dhabal listed there.

 What did you do after that?

At first, I just commented on the news articles that this cannot be true. I did not use any foul language but I was abused by quite a few people. Without doing a basic search about NASA or about my background, they said things like “You are a fool”, “People like you who always find faults and cannot appreciate true achievements are a shame to the country”, “It is because you are so stupid that you are nothing today, and she will go to NASA in a few months”, etc. It frustrated me a little and I became curious to find out some more about the girl. I searched for her Facebook profile (https://www.facebook.com/sataparna.mukherjee.5), through which I got the links of the two videos. Once I watched them, I thought enough is enough. Being a physicist, I took the nonsense about black hole quite personally. I decided that I have enough evidence against this news and I must do something about it.

 Were you aware that you were actually taking on the entire Indian media when you wrote your facebook post? Did you think that your post might go viral?

Definitely not. I am very inactive on Facebook and have a dormant profile. I was not even sure if all my friends could see this post on their wall. I had no idea it would get noticed and have an impact.

Do you think Sataparna has been duped or is she lying?

When I posted the note, I believed it could be either of the two options. But since then, I am gradually inclined to believe that she is probably lying. Since the post went online, I got a few messages from people claiming that they know her and that she plans to file an FIR against me. Some also claimed that she was a poor student who does not have maths as a subject. I have no means to verify if these claims are true. But this morning I received a message (image attached in the email) from her friend (https://www.facebook.com/sangeeta.bauli?fref=ts) which was written in a very bad tone challenging me to meet them face to face if I have guts. If she was duped, she should have clarified that she made a mistake or in the least looked into it herself. Instead, I have seen news reports like this where she still maintains that she did indeed win some NASA fellowship: http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-nasa-denies-selecting-18-year-old-west-bengal-girl-for-top-scholarship-2185132

 Does it make you happy that many people and a section of the media followed up your post?

Yes, certainly. I am glad I was able to make a difference.

 Does it bother you that many news agencies are not giving any credit to you but are going ahead with their own stories about the hoax?

My only intention while writing the post was to expose the hoax, not to gain fame. Since that has been achieved, my job is done. However, I did not expect to see my surname changed from Patra to Mitra as in this article: (http://www.deccanchronicle.com/science/science/030316/shocking-nasa-shrugs-off-west-bengal-teenager-s-gip-scholarship-claims.html)

 Have you done something like this before too? (getting to the bottom of a hoax that is)

I always do to the extent I can. The only thing I have done differently this time is to publish my findings, the response to which has been overwhelming. I would like to thank everyone who has appreciated my work. This has certainly motivated me to be more vocal and spread awareness. In fact, let me grab this opportunity to promote Bigyan – a Bengali science magazine for the general audience (https://www.facebook.com/bigyan.org.in/?fref=ts), which was started by some of my friends.

 Your message to the Indian media and young people…

The media is very powerful and should act responsibly. They should not indulge in the race of being the first to get a sensational news out. Proper verification of the authenticity of a piece of news should be done before publishing it. Readers should not blindly trust whatever they see on social media either. A simple internet search can go a long way.

Another matter that I would like to draw attention to is that in India, too much importance is given to personal achievements like getting admission into a top international college, getting a high rank in IIT etc. Even the highest salary package becomes news these days. These are definitely important for the person concerned, but should not be grounds of hero worship. I believe that instead of focusing on these type of achievements, young people should focus more on the actual impact that someone brings about, be it in art, science or industry. Invention of a new technology should be bigger news than someone getting a NASA internship. The reason we have Sataparnas and P.V. Aruns today is because of the glorification of the wrong kind of accomplishments by the Indian society.

 

 

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Sharmila Bhowmick got to the bottom of the mobile phone scam

Sharmila Bhowmick got to the bottom of the mobile phone scam

A refrain that we often get to hear is investigative journalism is dead. But Sharmila Bhowmick is clearly not one to believe in that. That is why she went all the extra miles to get to the bottom of one of the biggest scams happening in India in recent times.

To know about it read her article here 

Sharmila tells us how she did it:

It just sounded too good to be true”

One of the most interesting stories ever; basically where a few simple questions thwarted a major botch up. After the gala launch of ‪#‎Freedom251, I only just decided to land up at their factory to follow up on what had caught the imagination of the country: an unbelievably cheap phone at Rs 251.

The look and feel of the place spoke for its self. In a rushed interview, the company owners said that they had not got factories yet, they didn’t yet have a phone; but they had procured 25 lakh bookings online. It pretty much seemed like a product being sold on the basis of an idea. It is the age of selling ideas anyway, and Goel seemed to have caught that nerve.

Next day, I found something new, vouchers of Freedom251 being sold in the village markets of interior Noida to really poor people. No mention was made by Goel & Co about on ground sales before.

On the first day after the mega launch when I went to the corporate office he said , “I have completed my target of 25 lakh bookings.” Then someone from his office later in the evening said we have registered 7 crore bookings online.
Next day, I discovered they were selling vouchers to really poor people which was not even mentioned by them when we spoke.
Then I spoke to these people who were buying the vouchers and they said, “We were told its a Government of India scheme, under the Make in India scheme so we have booked 4-5 phones for gifting during festivals.”
The numbers said almost 1 lakh people had booked more than one phone each since it was just Rs251 and they had already paid for it.
I wrote an article on what I found out about the voucher.
Next day the company started saying, “We will sell 25 lakh phones, offline too.”
So basically it came to 50 lakh phones they would make and sell between April 10-June 30 without a factory or even a phone model to show.
However the booking on ground stopped immediately after the story. The promises and plans from the company kept changing and evolving.

With all doors closing and an FIR lodged by one of its vendors; yesterday Goel confirmed that he is refunding all the money. But added that as and when the phone does get made, it will be delivered on a cash-on-delivery basis.

They still don’t have a factory, they still don’t have a phone to show.

The whole point in doggedly following the story to this end is only to show, how easy it is to sell anything to the mass. It also shows how reporters really increasingly need to go to the closest point of the origin of news to get the truth out. You get nothing at media events, go to the ground and while on the ground, go closest to the spot.

Had I not gone as far as the Ringing Bells office gates, I would have possibly never been able to bring out what it was all about; and possibly a lot of water would have passed under the bridge before someone shouted SCAM!

“For journalists there is never any substitute for leg work”

There is always a good story to be told. So find it, and say it well. That is simply the inner guide I look for while hunting for a story. Only this, has led me to break and bust quite a few virulent scams – sand mafia, real estatae scams, a Muslim’s-only apartment scam where poor Muslim’s were conned – over the last few years. Use technology well, but don’t become its slave. A good reporter has sharp eyes, a sharp nose and is never credulous. A good story today is still a harvest of great foot work and real interaction with human beings. Go to the ground; while on the ground, go closest to the spot. There is no substitute for leg work. Reporting is and will be, the soul of journalism.

“I was so thrilled to report stories I worked without money in my first job”

It was one day, while waiting for a professor to arrive in class and then being told that she was not turning up, that I decided that I would rather use my time productively, while doing some real work and not waste time. I dropped out of my MA course, after a full year’s labour; much to the chagrin of the professors for wasting a precious JU- Comparative Literature MA seat. I started working for free with MJ Akbar’s Asian Age. I did somehow complete a journalism diploma from the University in an evening course, after work. By the way, since high school and since I was 17, I have been financially independent and even funded my own education.

The Asian Age was the most thrilling experience ever. I used to submit my stories written in long hand, when someone introduced me to computer typing. Soon, I got hired by Newstime, a Hyderabad-based paper’s Kolkata bureau to cover the Calcutta political scene. After this, I joined The Hindustan Times, Kolkata. I became the only girl, in an all-male bureau, covering hard news. But the scenario changed after a few years, when women joined.

I left Kolkata for Delhi in 2004 and joined HT digital, New Delhi. I arrived in Delhi without an appointment letter, just on the basis of a word of my would-be boss, Sanjay Trehan. However, I was given the letter within minutes of reaching office.

I was producing the world pages for the portal and then Sanjay quite unbelievably gave me permission to write a preposterous single-woman column: Girl Talk. The column, though outrageous at times, became very popular.

After a while, I decided to quit mainstream media for a bit, and got hired by Sankarshan Thakur, the then Executive Editor of Tehelka to write for and produce its feature pages. I did that for close to a year. After a year, CNBC hired me to research and write a documentary series of shows called Business Legends, the pillars of India’s corporate history.

I got to work closely with Victor Banerjee and direct him as well. I also produced a series called the Lessons-In-Excellence, a sort of master-class series on business strategy. This was my longest stint at any place ever. In eight years, I produced hundreds of documentary films and shows.

But as they say, once a reporter, always a reporter. When I heard Times of India was launching an edition in unchartered journalistic greenfield like Noida and Gurgaon, I had to put my foot in.

The real human stories, seldom lie in the centre of buffed and polished metropolis they are always in the subaltern, the hinterland. NCR is like that. It has the issues where the rural meets the urban, how lives are changing; how cultures are clashing; how the glitz of the urban is inducing aspirations and the fall out of that. You actually live within a few kilometers of a real village and a kilometre away from the country’s biggest mall. It is an interesting landscape, with numerous untold stories, waiting to be told. I’m enjoying every bit of it.

Sharmila Bhowmick 39, is an Assistant Editor with The Times of India. When she is not on a story trail, she is either painting or sculpting. She lives with her six-year-old daughter.

On the evening of Feb. 14 my mother and I spotted a young girl from our balcony on the sidewalk opposite our house, barely able to walk. A guy quickly came up behind her and gave her support so that she would not fall. Then two more men in their early 20s stood with her. They put two glasses of yellow-looking fluid on the top of a random car and started taking selfies with the girl, crushing her in their midst. She kept leaning on one guy or the other and they took turns in picking her up, groping her, touched her wherever possible and all this we kept watching from the balcony with rising fear.love

My 75-year-old mother, who reads the newspaper every morning from the first to the last line, and who couldn’t be more clued in on violence against women in India, was alarmed that the intention of the young men was just not right and we should take the initiative to save the girl. “What if they are making an MMS? What if they have given her a date rape drug? What if they plan to rape her?” my mom’s mind went on an overdrive.

I first told her, “For all you know the girl is consenting in this.” But as the minutes ticked by the groping and touching and picking up and photographing continued without a break. I also started getting alarmed.

My parents have been living in the same locality for the past 34 years, and it’s a locality where almost everyone knows everyone. Although a number of new restaurants and stores are coming up in the locality in recent times because of the convenience of the location, the essence of the place continues to be the same.

I noticed from the balcony that all the security guards, of the neighboring buildings and restaurants had also noticed. Some people in the locality stood a distance away and watched but they didn’t know if it was okay to intervene.

At my mother’s behest I finally went down and intervened. I asked the girl her age and she promptly said she was 17 and pointed at the tallest in the group of three men and said, “He is my Bha-lentine and I am in a relationship with him for three years. We are celebrating Valentine’s Day.”

I said, “That’s fine but which Valentine would allow his friends to grope his drunk girlfriend openly? Don’t you think something is wrong here?”

I added, “Are you aware that drinking below 18 is illegal?” pointing at the half finished bottle of whisky that was standing on the footpath next to them.

The girl, who was unable to stand straight for a moment, was suddenly all erect and spoke clearly, without slurring. She said sorry promptly.

I asked for her parents’ phone number and wanted to call them so that they could take her home and told her if she did not hand me the number I would call the police.

The word police had two kinds of effect. While the girl recoiled and said she was immediately going home the boyfriend said, “I am calling the police because you are harassing us.”

I said, “Yes please go ahead we are all waiting for the police. We will all tell them what has been happening here.”

By then a crowd had gathered and the boyfriend realized that they all knew me well and we were together. He decided to step back. “He will drop me home,” the girl said and started walking while the boys followed her.

As I had predicted, the girl knew what she was doing and maybe this was her idea of celebrating Valentine’s Day. I am not being judgmental. At 17 it is only expected that a young girl will be adventurous, will be eager to break the rules but what irked me was she was probably compromising her dignity, her safety by doing what she was doing. And no, she was not on a date rape drug, she was perfectly fine.

As the crowd dispersed it pained me to hear someone say, “This is why girls are violated in India.” Words I absolutely loathe because it shifts the blame on the girl but in this case I did not know how to react, what to say.

For the full article go to Asia Times

Smita Sharma is a woman with a mission. This young lady has been traveling to remote villages of India to photograph victims of rape and bring their stories to the world.

A rape victim caught on Smitha's frame

One of the rape survivors photographed by Smita Sharma

So far, she has photographed 27 women belonging to different states of India and the photos were showcased at an exhibition held at the India Habitat Centre in Delhi recently.

While the exhibition based on her project got rave reviews, and huge response from international media as well, it made Smita’s resolve to launch her awareness campaign even stronger.

She says: “Whenever I go to meet any victim, the last thing I ask is how it happened. I meet them as a friend. They are so horribly ostracized and shunned that sometimes I am the only one they have probably talked to in ages and shared a hug with. In my interactions with the rape survivors, I have realized there is a trend.

“Among the 27 women I photographed, 25 have been raped by people they knew. The rape was meticulously planned because the rapist kept track of the victim’s movements. In some cases, the perpetrators were arrested. In some others, they were not. In many cases, they were arrested but they are out on bail now.

“But in all cases, the onus of blame and shame has been on the woman. I met the family of a deceased 80-year-old lady, who had been raped by a 17-year-old boy and people laughed at her because they felt she was responsible for her rape.”

For the rest of the article go to Asia Times

I have been down with flu for the last five days. But mothers of five-year-olds, with their dads out of town, usually don’t have the luxury to hit the bed because of ill health.

In my desperate bid to keep my sanity alive I snatched a book from the shelf and was trying to read a few pages, while son played with his playmate in the same room, shrieking at the top of his voice.

At that moment I felt the only person who could probably understand my predicament was the writer of the book I was holding in my hand – Twinkle Khanna.

Twinkle Khanna Karan Johar

Twinkle with her best friend Karan Johar

I felt a strange camaraderie with the lady through her writing, a connection we had completely failed to establish when we had met in person more than 15 years back when she was still an actress and I was a full-time journalist.

When I went to interview her I found her very pretty, very polite and very boring with her answers (maybe that was because showbiz bored her to bits as she admits now).

For the entire article go to Bollywoodjournalist.com

The food stalls decorated during the South Point re-union at Wet-O-Wild at Nicco Park

The food stalls decorated during the South Point re-union at Wet-O-Wild at Nicco Park

The last time I attended the South Point School reunion was eight years back. So I was really excited when I walked into Wet-O-Wild at Nicco Park, recently, to attend my school reunion. While we had loads of fun here are a few realizations I had:

  • At the South Point reunion everyone talked about and looked for his or her “byatha”.

For the uninitiated this means the sweet heartache that comes from having feelings for someone. This could be also entirely one sided. While some were elated to find their byatha (in this case the person), some were dejected they didn’t, and some revealed how they ensure they keep in touch with their byathas on FB.

The clincher came from someone who asked me, “Do you know if X is coming?”

She was a few batches junior to me and X was her byatha.

I answered, “I really don’t know.”

Her hubby, looking dapper in a jacket, smiled.

I just nudged her and said, “Wouldn’t he mind?”

“Arrey nah didi. We always discuss our byathas. It’s okay. I even tell him when my byatha comes in my dream.”

Then I met another classmate, happily settled in Europe, who confided in me that more than spending time in his classroom he used to spend time in front of mine.

“Who was your byatha?” I asked.

I rattled off the names of the good-looking girls in our class. He stopped me at one name and at 41, blushed like a 13-year -old.

“She also lives in Europe. Maybe you can do a Dilwale Dulhaniya train journey one day,” I joked. He blushed again and this time the red wouldn’t leave his ears.

And those who actually found their byatha and had a word or maybe even shook a leg, were also persecuted by a few judgmental kinds, who probably feared their friends  were going to elope with their byathas that night or were plain jealous because they couldn’t find their own byathas.

One such conscience keeper in an attempt to embarrass a friend went up to him when he was dancing with his byatha, and said, “Would you want a picture together?”

The guy replied without blinking an eyelid, “Yes please. Post it on Facebook and make sure you tag my wife.”

Before I could react to this I saw A walking in then in a while spotted A’s ex-spouse B and then a while later spotted A’s second ex-spouse C with C’s current flame (I presumed. Now don’t blame me if this sounds like a riddle). All are ex-South Pointers.

The stage all set for the party

The stage all set for the party

  • Don’t cringe if you are called auntie/uncle

As soon I entered I heard a young girl shouting, “Auntie! Auntie!” I looked around and spotted my friend’s daughter.

“Which batch?” I asked. “2011,” she answered. I gulped. I am 1991 Madhyamik batch.

Then she put up her mobile cam and said in a sing-song voice, “Auntie selfie time. I have to send this to mom.”

I don’t know if I posed with a heavy heart or with a heart full of realizations, but I posed happy at the thought that this young girl, at least, wanted a selfie with me.

Back to our table I could hear my classmates laughing and saying the reunion crowd was strong in PYTs and oldies, we were not fitting in.

I didn’t have the heart to tell them that probably when we again go to the reunion after another eight years we would be in the second group.

Because the last time I had gone I was 33 and never knew just eight years would make such a hasty difference on others’ perception about me.

As such my five-year-old, who, I was under the illusion, makes me look a young mom, is after my life to colour my greying strands.

Another classmate introduced me to her daughter, who is a tiny bit taller than me.

I had just started reflecting on my own age all over again, when her daughter said, “Aunty I really liked your book.”

I felt like telling her, “Call me aunty as many times beta, because your words are music to my ears.”

  • Most drank like it was their first sip from the bottle

People from all age groups were guzzling their drinks like it was their first taste of alcohol.

I guess the reunion reminded one of school days when you would sneak out a peg from your father’s wine cabinet and do the forbidden.  Hence school reunion is the time when one is reminded that one is allowed to drink as much one wants, with one’s own money and there is no guardian or teacher telling you that it’s not right. It’s a way of celebrating the long way we have come.

The spread at the do

The spread at the do

I asked a friend, “How many pegs?”

He answered very nonchalantly, “Seven.” Then he added equally coolly, “I topped it off with biriyani and kebabs and parantha from the Oudh 1590 stall.”

My head had just started reeling with the information when I saw a guy swaying precariously standing in front of me. Then he went down on his face.

A young girl in a mini skirt, looked at one guy in our group and said, “Uncle, can you please help me pick him up?”

My friend gave her a semi-disgusted look and unconsciously ran his finger on the hint of grey on his side burns,  then helped her pick up the sozzled guy.

I guess when you are neither too old nor too young you are just perfect to help in picking up the sozzled.

  • For once a girl was not judged for hanging out with 10 guys

When we were in our teens being the only girl in a group of 10 was a strict no-no. Somehow the presence of just another girl made the gender equation more acceptable. Growing up as a Pointer whenever we made plans to go for movies, pandal hopping during Pujas or any other outing, the question at home would always be, “I hope there is another girl in the group?”

I saw no logic behind the question but I think it kept us safe from the so- called social stigma of the tag: This girl only goes around with boys.

But at the school reunion a girl from South Point School – she could be 18 or she could be 50 – is free to mingle, dance, be tipsy, click selfies and hang out with those 10 guys of her batch, or for that matter any other batch, without being judged without being asked questions. It’s indeed a liberating experience.

I for once, screamed and danced to Jumma Chumma De De like there was no tomorrow.

  • The naughtiest are doing equally best

This time I met some of the naughtiest guys in my class. They were the ones who could never be disciplined, failed in class, were expelled and some passed with frightening marks.

I met a friend who actually had the cheek to come to school day after day with just a pen, without any school bag or exercise copies in the Xth standard and most of his time was spent standing in the corridor because he was punished.

When he felt like taking notes he would borrow paper from us and write and then crinkle the note and put it in his pocket maybe to bring it out only after the trouser had been washed.

But today he is in a good job and in one of the biggest corporations in Middle East.

Another friend said that he could click pictures with two batches because he had failed in the ninth standard. Then out of curiosity I asked him what’s his profession. He told me he’s lived in three foreign countries, is a citizen of one of those and a fourth one is his home now and he holds a good position in an insurance company.

Needless to say they are still the naughtiest, but they have made themselves the best too.

(Pix courtesy Kaushik Sengupta and Ranjana Roychowdhury Banerjee )

Recently I was reading Shoma A. Chatterji’s book Filming Reality: The Independent Documentary Movement in India (Published by Sage) when I realized how little is known about the documentary movement in India which started three decades back and has proved to be a very strong alternative voice on celluloid.

However, if most Indians are asked to mention one documentary focusing on women’s issues that they watched in recent times, the unanimous answer would be India’s Daughter made by Leslee Udwin.

Thanks to the controversial content of the film, the ban on it by Indian Government in 2014 and the publicity it garnered, the film has found a space in the mind of the masses.

Filming Reality is written by Shoma A. Chatterji

Filming Reality is written by Shoma A. Chatterji

But as is well known, and as Chatterji also ratifies in her book, when it comes to indigenous documentaries on women made by women, there are plenty in India that are a must watch but are often plagued by a lack of awareness and publicity.

Chatterji, who is a National Award-winning author herself,  writes: “Documentary cinema was almost exclusively a man’s world till around the 1970s. However, change in the direction of the wind brought in more and more women into the field. The documentary movement in India today has as many women film-makers as men, if not more since a demographic profile is not possible.”

Filming Reality contains in-depth analysis of the work of Indian women documentary film-makers and talks about how they have dealt with varied issues like sexual harassment in the workplace, trafficking and child marriage. They are also looking at other relevant issues like food, politics in India, socialization of violence and many more.

It has taken Chatterji painstaking research for five years to write the book but what she has written is the most comprehensive presentation of the documentary movement in India.

In this article, I list 10 commendable women filmmakers, about whom Shoma A. Chatterji has talked in her book. These are women who have challenged the perceptions of Indian society and continue to do so with their phenomenal work.

  1. Sherna Dastur

Her film Manjuben Truck Driver (2002) is about a woman who broke gender stereotypes. She has deliberately assumed a male identity, dresses up like a man, speaks like local goons, likes to be photographed in movie-star style, blends into the masculine world of truck drivers, and commands respect. But she believes that the man of the house should get special privileges like eating before the women and follows that diligently because of her so-called “male” profession and hence derived identity.

  1. Nidhi Tuli

Her documentary The Saroj Khan Story is about the Bollywood choreographer who has broken every rule in the choreography book. One of the most successful choreographers of all time, Saroj never cared for glamor or clothes, she let her work speak for her and she has been brazen, bold, uncompromising, rude and ruthless.

Saroj Khan

Saroj Khan

From a background dancer to Bollywood’s best known choreographer, her rise has been phenomenal but apart from the professional ups and downs, the film takes a look at her personal life where she was dumped by her mentor when she got pregnant. She had to deal with her daughter’s illness and her eventual death.

  1. Mamta Murthy

Her film Colours Black made in 2011 is a beautifully structured documentary based on four children, now adults in different stages of life, recounting mainly off camera, their experience of child abuse and the silence they were coerced into which continued till they grew up.

  1. Nishtha Jain

A scene from Gulabi Gang

A scene from Gulabi Gang

She has made a number of documentaries and won prestigious awards too but two of her best works are Lakhsmi and Me and Gulabi Gang.

Lakshmi and Me delves into the life of a maid Lakshmi who works in Nishtha’s home and she shows through the film how little an employer knows about the life of a maid who has to constantly deal with the drudgery of working in different homes and the lack of love and security in her personal life.

Nishtha, in an interview in the book, says: “In one scene, I seem like such a nag about the teacups and my editor took it out because I didn’t sound nice. We finally put it back. Because I control the camera I cannot paint myself white.”

Gulabi Gang follows the Gulabi Gang, an unsual group of rural women in Bundelkand in central India dressed in dark pink sarees led by their leader Sampat Lal fighting for the rights of women and Dalits across several villages.

  1. Ananya Chakraborty Chatterjee

Her 2010 film Understanding Trafficking shows how trafficking is an organized crime involving a human chain starting with parents, who are willing to sell off their girls, and pimps some of whom even pose as social activists.

The film won a National Award.

Her other hard-hitting documentaries include Gandhari where she has shown how women have naturalized the silent process of subjugation, suffering and oppression.

Najaayaz is on the vulnerabilities of the children of sex workers. The School that Karmi Soren Built is about this tribal lady who gave all her land for the only school to be built on it in the area so that it could transform lives.

  1. Suhasini Mulay

A National Award-winning veteran actress, Suhasini Mulay has 60 documentaries to her credit four of which have won National Awards.

An Indian Story, based on the 1978 Bhagalpur blindings when a set of undertrials lost their vision when acid was forcibly poured in their eyes, and Bhopal-Beyond Genocide on the Bhopal gas tragedy, are two of the winners. Her first film made in 1977 on women’s literacy was picked up by UNICEF.

  1. Deepa Dhanraj

One of the best known documentary filmmakers, Deepa Dhanraj has a number of powerful documentaries to her credit.

For instance, Invoking Justice (2011) is a strikingly original film on how a group of women got together in 2004 to form their own Jamaats (gatherings) in southern India where so far Jamaats were all-men local bodies, who tried disputes according to Islamic Sharia Law and rarely gave a chance to women to defend themselves.

The network comprised 12,000 women and despite immense resistance from men, they have been able to settle 8,000 cases that range from wife beating to murder.

Her other film, Something Like a War delves into the forced vasectomies and sterilizations on Indian rural poor that were carried out during the Emergency to control the population.

  1. Madhushree Dutta

Her film I Live in Behrampada fetched a number of awards. It was a socio-political feedback on the people of Behrampada, a slum-like neighborhood near Mumbai’s Bandra station where Hindus and Muslims lived in peace and harmony, which was shattered by police atrocities on the minority community after the Mumbai riots of 1992.

Her film Memories of Fear, which shows how girls are socialized into a fear psychosis about just anything so that it is easier to control and suppress them, got her the National Award for the Best Film in 1996.

  1. Paromita Vohra

Her works are tinged with satire and humor and interestingly two of her most successful documentaries talk about society through food.

Annapurna: Goddess of Food is about a women’s co-operative started by 14 women in 1975, who cooked meals for the migrant workers. The co-operative now boasts of a membership of 150,000 and has its own credit co-operative bank, short-stay home and a catering centre.

Defeat of a Minor Goddess tries to delve into food politics as an understanding of intolerance and the meaning of public and private space. The idea struck her when she realized a whole area in Mumbai was vegetarian starting from restaurants to apartment buildings.

  1. Reena Mohan

Kamlabai, the first screen actress of India, was 88 when the documentary was shot. The film Kamlabaishot in 1992 remains a landmark documentary that traces the life of this old lady through the mundane daily chores and yet there are flashes of her past and a glimpse of her sense of humor.

Skin Deep is more contemporary and extremely relevant at a time when every Indian woman is grappling with body image. The filmmaker interviews six women in various ages and from different social backgrounds and shows how they constantly struggle to live up to the social expectations of beauty.

(This article, written by me, was recently published in the website Asia Times.)