India occupies most of the Indian subcontinent. It is about 1/3rd the size of the U.S. and now has more than 1.1 billion people. (Show a map of India and the surrounding nations.) Most Indians are very poor. India has an ancient civilization which has given much to the world, including the concept of zero and the principle of non-violent mass action as an agent to force political change. India is the largest functioning democracy in the world. The two main religions of India are Hindu (80%) and Muslim (13%).
Beginning in 1757, the British East India Company controlled increasingly large parts of India. By 1858 virtually the entire country was subject to British rule, which was transferred to the British Crown. Led by Mahatma Gandhi, India achieved its independence in 1947 through a campaign of non-violent mass action. Gandhi's tactics of non-cooperation, civil disobedience, protest and petition were often referred to as "passive resistance" but they were anything but passive.
One of the ways in which the British had ruled India was to pit Muslim against Hindu. The tactic was called "divide and rule". When Britain granted independence in 1947, it partitioned its former colony into two separate countries: a predominantly Muslim Pakistan and an overwhelmingly Hindu India. Mass chaos resulted as Hindus fled Pakistan and Muslims left India. (India still has a Muslim population of well over 100 million people. It is the fourth largest Muslim nation in the world, after Indonesia, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.)
The Ganges River is one of the major rivers in India. It flows from the Himalayan mountains through eastern India and empties into the Indian ocean in what is now Bangladesh. The water of the Ganges is believed to be holy with the power to wash away sins. It is also believed that a person who dies with holy water from the Ganges in his or her mouth will have an easier path to heaven. Indians use the Ganges to bathe, to wash their clothing, and to carry their ashes to heaven in small containers that float on the river. Stone steps, called ghats, lead down to the river in many places, especially near temples.
HINDU RELIGION AND INDIAN CULTURE
Hinduism is described in ancient sanskrit books called the "Vedas." Hinduism teaches that a soul has many lives. It returns to earth in various body forms to learn the lessons that life on Earth has to offer. The level of each rebirth depends upon how well the soul lived out its past life. If a person is good in this life he or she will be born to a higher incarnation in the next life. In the order of rebirth, people are higher than animals and men are higher than women.
The goal of Hindu religious practice is to be liberated from worldly desires and released from the cycle of rebirth and death.
In 1938 India was a society bound by ancient customs. Although much has changed, rural India is still quite tradition-bound. Over the thousands of years that Hinduism has held sway in India, many traditions have acquired a religous sanction even though they are antithetical to the basic teachings of the religion. These include the caste system, patriarchy, and the treatment of women, especially if they are widows.
The Caste System: Castes are groups in society ranked in a hierarchy, membership in which is achieved by birth. Since occupations are often handed down by birth, caste has a definite relation to occupation. People generally marry only within their caste. In India, there are thousands of castes and subcastes. They are seen as fundamental to the sub-continent's social structure. When people converted from Hinduism to Islam or Sikhism, they retained their caste affiliation.
Despite the fact that the caste system has been outlawed by the Indian constitution, caste ranking and its influence on social interaction are expected to continue to affect social interactions in the future. Caste is stronger in the countryside than in the cities and its effect is felt more in matters of kinship and marriage than in interactions that are less personal in nature.
The Brahman caste was traditionally the most respected, honored, and esteemed of all the castes. Brahmans were permitted to read and interpret the holy texts. There were other castes and subcastes for warriors, government administrators, merchants, etc. Some people were not even in the class system. These were called the Untouchables and they occupied the lowest rung in society. They were restricted to "unclean" occupations such as cleaning toilets or cleaning the hides of dead cattle. If a member of a higher caste came into contact with an Untouchable they had to perform a bathing ritual to clean themselves of contamination from the touch. If Untouchables tried to improve their situation in life, they were subjected to brutal repression.
Patriarchy: A basic belief of Hinduism and traditional Indian society is male dominance. It permeates almost every aspect of Indian society. Men are considered superior to women. Women pray to be reborn as a man, which is seen as a step up in the universal order.
A section of the Vedas called the "Laws of Manu" have been interpreted to designate a woman's life as having three stages. The first stage is when a girl is under the protection of her father. In the second stage, as a woman, she is under the protection of her husband. The third stage is widowhood, taken care of by her oldest son. But if there is no male child or if the son's wife doesn't like her, the widow is shunned and isolated. Basically, a woman doesn't have a real life unless she has a man by her side. She is to look to her father and her husband as her teacher, her provider, and her keeper. When her husband dies, she is to dedicate her life to Lord Krishna, the highest Hindu god. Krishna is often pictured playing a flute.
Treatment of Widows: A married woman is considered to be half her husband's body and when he dies she is considered to be half his corpse. When a husband dies his widow must atone for her sins, which were thought to have contributed to the death of her husband. Widows, no matter what caste they were originally born into, were (and still are in many instances) relegated to the lowest stratum of society. They are considered bad luck and unclean. Even their shadow can be dangerous. They are therefore shunned by society.
There were few good choices for a widow in traditional Indian society. She could throw herself on her husband's funeral pyre and burn with his body. This was called Sati. It has recently fallen into disfavor and is now illegal. The best solution was for the widow to live with her eldest son. She could not remarry, unless the husband's younger brother consented to marry her.
A woman with no male child to provide for her, or whose son wouldn't take her in, was relegated to a lonely ascetic life of prayer. Some found a haven in ashrams, strict regime religious communities. Life in widows' ashrams was simple and sparse. The widows got one bland meal per day. Tomatoes, spices, onions, and sugar were forbidden to widows. There was no luxury in the ashram and women slept on mats on the floor. Their heads were shaven and they dressed in all white or all red. They were forbidden to wear makeup. Their days were to be entirely focused on finding salvation in Lord Krishna for hopes of a good after-life and a better situation in their next reincarnation. One of the few times that widows could celebrate was the feast of Holi, a festival of color. One of them would be dressed as Krishna and color applied to their faces and clothing.
Unfortunately, in many areas of India this system still exists.
Married women wear metal bands on their left wrist. When their husbands dies, the bands are broken off.
Tumeric is a yellow/orange colored spice known for its antiseptic effects.
Hindus believe that when they die, they should die in the open so that it's easier for their souls to gain access to the gods.
Hindus are vegetarian and cows are sacred to them.
The swastika, both right and left facing versions, are ancient religious symbols of Hinduism. In Hindu designs there is often a dot in each quadrant. It is considered an auspicious sign and adorns many temples. It is used on jewelry, in books, and on buildings. The Nazis took the left facing version of the swastika for the symbol of their political party. The Hindu swastika has nothing to do with that of the Nazis.
A eunuch is a man who has been castrated. A hermaphrodite is a person born with both male and female sexual characteristics. In India there, are 500,000 to 1 million eunuchs and hermaphrodites. They form societal groups and have particular functions. They sing at weddings and births. Lately some eunuchs have been elected to political office in India as people who will be less subject to corruption because they do not have families and children.
QUICK DISCUSSION QUESTION: Shakuntala asks, "What happens when our conscience conflicts with our faith?" What is the conflict and how does she resolve it at the end of the movie? Then compare how Gandhi would react to Shakuntala's dilemma.
Suggested Response: Shakuntala's faith tells her to follow the ancient texts that prohibit widow remarriage and require that even child widows must live an ascetic life of physical deprivation and emotional isolation. Shakuntala's conscience says that Chuyia should have a better future and should be allowed to remarry. Shakuntala's conscience prevails in the end.
For Gandhi "Truth is God." That truth leads him to the basic moral imperatives of his religion, which are love and respect for others. (Indeed these are the basic moral imperatives of every religion. All other ethical precepts flow from love and respect.) For Gandhi, there was no conflict between religion and conscience because he always took religion down to basic ethical principles. Gandhi was willing to ignore less important religious traditions if they interfered with fundamental truths. The fundamental truth that applied to widows was that no one should be forced to live a life without love. The fundamental truth relating to widows forced into prostitution or sexually abused, like Kalyani and Chuyia was that they should be respected. (These are also the thoughts that power Shakuntala's crisis of conscience.) When traditions caused a violation of basic moral precepts such as love and respect, Gandhi was willing to jettison traditions even when those traditions were based on holy texts that had been honored for thousands of years. Eventually, Shakuntala came to the same conclusion and put Chuyia on the train.
The director of this movie, Deepa Mehta, asserts that the claims of Hindu fundamentalists that the Hindu scriptures (the "Vedas") require the caste system, male domination, subjugation of women, and mistreatment of widows are misinterpretations of the ancient Hindu texts. In this she follows the teachings of Gandhi. Unfortunately hundreds of millions in India have not yet absorbed Gandhi's message.
Mohandas Gandhi was the greatest religious and moral leader of the 20th century. He was also one of the greatest political leaders of the century. Indians called him "Mahatma" which means "Great Soul". They also called him "Bapu" which means father in Gujarat, one of the languages spoken in India. Throughout his life, Gandhi was a religious Hindu, but he acknowledged the validity of all other religions. One of his most famous statements, when asked if he was a Hindu was, "Yes I am. I am also a Christian, a Muslim, a Buddhist and a Jew."
Gandhi was an Indian of a mercantile caste who was educated as an attorney in England. He first practiced law in South Africa where the British had imported Indians to serve as laborers and shopkeepers. The Indians in South Africa were subjected to harsh and oppressive laws by the government, although they were not treated as poorly as the Africans. Gandhi developed non-violent civil disobedience (also called "passive resistance") as a tactic to overturn the harshest laws against Indians. Gandhian non-violence works on the minds of the oppressors to make them realize that continued oppression debases their own moral values. Through boycotts and other forms of direct action, the protesters also make sure that those in power understand that business as usual will not prevail and that continuing the oppression will be very expensive.
In 1915 Gandhi returned to India and became active in religious and political affairs. He was a leader of the Indian National Congress, a broad-based political organization which sought independence from Britain.
While Gandhi wanted India to be independent of British rule, he would not demean himself by hurting anyone. ("There are many causes that I am prepared to die for but no causes that I am prepared to kill for.") His leadership of non-violent resistance to British rule led the authorities to put Gandhi in prison several times. Each imprisonment made him more popular. Eventually, in 1947, India gained its independence from the British Empire without an armed struggle.
Gandhi's leadership was not only political, it had strong cultural, ethical and religious dimensions. Many religious texts stress the equality of all beings before God. This was the bedrock of Gandhi's reforms. He looked at Indian society and saw where its customs and practices violated this basic principle. These included sectarian tensions between Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, the oppression of the Untouchables, child marriage, and the treatment of widows. Gandhi preached that all men were brothers, whatever their religion. He advocated civil rights for the Untouchables and called them "Harijan" which means children of God. He campaigned against child marriage and supported remarriage for widows, especially child widows. He challenged the Indian people to go to the roots of their religion which incorporated loving and inclusive messages similar to those of Jesus Christ. He asked Indians to reject the cultural overlays on Hinduism (that had been thought to be religious doctrine for centuries) and to reject the old rules that supported the caste system, denied equal treatment for women, and oppressed widows.
Gandhi was not always able to convince the Indian people to do what he wanted, but he had tremendous power. For example, in 1947 there were terrible sectarian riots in Bombay and several other parts of India. Hindus were killing Muslims and Muslims were killing Hindus. People were being massacred by the thousands, including women and children. Gandhi implored the populace to stop and when they wouldn't, he went on a fast to the death or until they did stop. After several days, the leaders of the riots came to his bedside and swore that the violence would end, if only Gandhi would eat and not die. He sent them away and told them to come back when the violence had stopped. Only then would he eat. The riots stopped, the cities were quiet, and Gandhi ate again. See Mahatma Gandhi, Apostle of Nonviolence by John Dear, S.J.
Gandhi's reforms were rejected by Hindu fundamentalists, one of whom assassinated Gandhi on January 30, 1948, a few months after India gained its independence.
Gandhi's influence was not only felt by the Indian people but all over the world. India's refusal, under Gandhi's leadership, to use violence to throw off the yoke of British Imperialism showed the world that there were ways to fight oppression that did not require injury and killing. People seeking political and social change adopted Gandhi's tactics of non-violent mass disobedience with great results all over the world. Examples are: the U.S. Civil Rights Movement; the fall of the Soviet Union (one of the world's two superpowers) in 1991; forcing the end to apartheid in South Africa; removing the long-time dictator of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, in 1986; the defeat of the fascist dictatorship in Argentina which began from the peaceful protests of "Los Madres," the mothers of political opponents of the regime who had been killed or abducted; the "Velvet" Revolution in which Czechoslovakia removed communist rule in 1989; the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003; and the Orange Revolution in the Ukraine in 2004.
WIDOWS IN INDIA TODAY
Many parts of India are still very tradition-bound. Many widows' ashrams, similar to the one shown in the movie, still exist. Many widows are still forced into prostitution to get enough to eat. The movie struck home in India. Hindu fundamentalists felt so threatened by the message of "Water" that the first time an attempt was made to film the movie they rioted, threw the sets into the Ganges, and shut down the production. Death threats were made against the director. The production was suspended and nothing happened for about five years. Then the movie was recast with new actors and filmed under another name in Sri Lanka, a primarily Buddhist country.
END OF INTRODUCTORY LECTURE -- See Introductory Lecture Notes which are in Microsoft Word® format so that they can be easily modified to suit the needs of different classes.
Can it be said that citizens in the U.S. have benefitted from Gandhi's teachings and moral example? The answer is, yes! Through Martin Luther King, James Lawson, and other leaders of the Civil Rights Movement African-Americans sought equal rights by reawakening the ethical impulses of the white majority and by putting economic pressure on white businesses so that eventually it was whites along with the protesters who demanded an end to segregation. (See Learning Guide to "A Force More Powerful".) The alternative was violent racial strife. As for other minorities in America, the African-American Civil Rights Movement paved the way for demands of equal rights and fair treatment. While American society is not perfect in the way that it treats minorities, the gains of most minority populations, particularly Hispanics and Native Americans, can be traced to the gains made by black Americans, which were secured in large part through the use of Gandhian techniques of non-violent mass action.
Gandhi dedicated his life to seeking Truth (His original formulation was "God is Truth". He later modified to "Truth is God"). He changed the world with his acts of non-violent protest, setting examples from which leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dalai Lama, and countless others would gain inspiration.
Here are some statements by Gandhi that bear repeating:
When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall - think of it, always.
What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans, and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty and democracy?
God is Truth . . . [many years later] . . . Truth is God.
I cannot teach you violence, as I do not myself believe in it. I can only teach you not to bow your heads before any one even at the cost of your life.
An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
Victory attained by violence is tantamount to a defeat, for it is momentary.
I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.
THEMES IN WATER
Themes in the movie include: (A) What happens when faith and conscience are in conflict? (B) The weight of tradition. (C) The oppression and abuse of women in a patriarchal society. (D) Can someone forced to live in corruption like Kalyani retain her integrity?
The plot of the movie consists of three interlocking stories, each of which can stand on its own. One is the tale of Chuyia, a child widow, who is sent away from home to an ashram where she is sexually abused. Second, is the Kalyani/Narayan romance. The third is the story of Shakuntala's crisis of faith. Kalyani's death triggers the abuse of Chuyia. The tragedies of both young women are motivating forces in Shakuntala's story, sparking her rebellion against the customs of traditional Indian society.
The character of Chuyia is used throughout the movie as an agent of explication and change. It is Chuyia who introduces us first to Madhumati, then to Shakuntala, then to Kalyani, and finally to Narayan. Except at the very beginning and the very end of the movie, Chuyia advances the plot and explicate's theme in ways that do not directly relate to her story. For example, Chuyia introduces Narayan to Kalyani, she brings Kalyani Narayan's note, Chuyia tells Madhumati about Kalyani's plans to marry, she kills Mitthu, Chuyia tells Shakuntala that she looks old, and asks "Where is the house of the men widows?". While the focus of the plot starts with Chuyia, it soon shifts to the Kalyani/Narayan love story, and then to the story of Shakuntala's crisis of faith. Only at the end of the film does Chuyia's story start up again.
SYMBOLISM IN "WATER"
Water: Indian and many Western traditions equate water with purity, life, and rebirth. This is an archetype common to many cultures because water is the first and most basic cleaning solution and because all life depends on water. Water is necessary for the fields to bloom each year.
In this film, many types of water are shown. One is the Ganges River, the holy river of India in which people wash away their sins, clean their bodies, and launder their clothing. Kalyani purifies herself in the water several times and finally engages in what is for her the ultimate purification of suicide; going to the place of the gods to find peace. We also see the river during funerals and in the wedding ceremony.
In myth and literature, rivers are often boundaries between different states of being and different cultures. (In Greek mythology, the River Styx is the boundary between the living and the dead.) In "Water," the Ganges serves as the line between the life of the city and the ashram and the corruption of the gentry in their large houses on the other shore.
Rain also plays an important role in the film. Rainy days serve as a time of play and rest for the characters - a time spent inside, away from the eyes of the world and the burdens of widowhood. Rain is a metaphor for the relationship between Kalyani and Narayan. Narayan first discovers where Kalyani lives when she wrings out a garment and drops water on him. He is then caught, quite happily, in a downpour. The rain clouds in the distance, dark and foreboding, foreshadow trouble to come. The messenger status of the clouds is made explicit when Narayan recites a poem about a cloud-messenger.
Bars on the windows of the ashram: These symbolize the prison of customs and attitudes in which the widows are confined.
Each of the characters in the film symbolize something.
Chuyia embodies youth and innocence -- which is eventually despoiled.
Kalyani is "an angel" -- Chuyia's reaction when she first sees her -- even though she is a prostitute. The word kalyani means "she who causes auspicious things." The death of Kalyani deepens Shakuntala's crisis of faith which in turn leads her to save Chuyia by putting her on the train. Kalyani is also a desperately lost young girl. When Chuyia first meets Narayan and realizes that she (Chuyia) is lost, she says something odd. She says that Kalyani is lost. Narayan says, "We should find her." And they do, in more ways than one.
Narayan as Vishnu/Krishna -- the soul/future of India Narayan is a Sanskrit name for Vishnu, the Supreme Being or Ultimate Reality. Narayan is also a common name in India. Krishna is the eighth incarnation of Vishnu. Krishna is the "the Supreme Person and the highest God," the lord of the world. Vishnu is also called the preserver god. Narayan plays the flute which is the instrument of Lord Krishna. (Get a picture of Krishna playing the flute and show it to the class.) Definitions are from articles in Wikipedia.
The association of Narayan with Krishna and Vishnu is explicit in the script. Shortly after she first meets him, Chuyia asks Narayan if he is "Lord Vishnu's Narayan." Kalyani, after she meets Narayan, on her way to be prostituted to Rabindra's father, asks Gulabi if "Lord Krishna takes on human form." When Narayan and Kalyani are talking about the future, and he wonders who will decide which traditions should be retained and which should be thrown away, Kalyani tells him that he will. In traditional Hindu marriages, the husband is the god for the wife. The husband tells the wife what to do and what to believe. It is Narayan who puts himself in the hands of Gandhi, who really was the soul of India and its future. Traditionally, widows give reverence to Krishna and ask him to deliver them from their circumstances. This is what Kalyani was asking Narayan to do.
Madhumati: Madhumati is fat in an ashram where people are supposed to have one meal a day and not indulge in the pleasures of the senses. She smokes a drug (opium?), which is also not allowed in an ashram. Mirrors are not found in ashrams but Madhumati has a mirror in her room and is concerned about her looks, despite the fact that she is old and fat. Nor are beds allowed in the ashram, but Madhumati has one. Finally, she acts as a madam, sending Kalyani and Chuyia to their assignations. As Kalyani said, an ashram is not (or rather should not be) a brothel. Madhumati is the symbol of all that is corrupt about the system. She prays to Shiva, the destroyer god.
There are a number of ironic situations and comments in the film.
(1) Ironies surround the character of Kalyani. She is "an angel" and a prostitute. She is an innocent and a prostitute. She is shunned by the other widows in the ashram because her presence would pollute their food, but it is the income she earns for the ashram which buys their food and pays their rent.
(2) The ashram, which is supposed to be a place of religous purity, exists because it prostitutes its young girls. Put another way, the ashram is supposed to protect the innocence of the occupants and allow them to approach god. Although expected to devote their lives to prayer, widows are often driven to prostitution because of society's neglect.
(3) When Kalyani gives her savings (obviously tips from her clients) for the cremation of the old widow, Madhumati comments: "What a Goddess!"
(4) When Chuyia asks where the houses for the widowed men are, the widows react in horror, asking god to preserve their men from such a terrible fate. The irony is that the widows should be reacting to their own fate with the same horror, but they do not.
(5) Narayan's mother wanted him to marry early and to have a daughter Chuyia's age by the time he meets Kalyani. At the end of the movie, a few days later, Narayan has Chuyia to take care of as a daughter.
(6) Narayan and his friend Rabindra are talking about Romeo and Juliet, with its famous balcony scene, as Kalyani is being taken up the steps to a sort of balcony for a sexual assignation with Rabindra's father.
(7) Madhumati, the leader of the ashram, who should be an example to the other widows, is fat, takes drugs, has a bed and a mirror, and functions as a madam.
(8) The character of Gulabi, the instrument of corruption, is the one who introduces us to Gandhi's positions of ethics and purity.
Chuyia takes Mitthu out of his cage and crushes him. This foreshadows both the breaking of Chuyia by the child abuse and the death of Kalyani when she tries to leave the cage of the Ashram. The views of the dark rain clouds shown as the romance between Kalyani and Narayan begins is also foreshadowing.
Curriculum Related Questions
COMPARISON TO THE UNITED STATES
The following two questions should be asked together.
1. This film describes a serious problem in traditional Indian society. Has the U.S. had any similar problems in the past? Have these problems been fully corrected?
2. This movie describes a serious problem in traditional Indian society. Does the U.S. have any similar problems today? If so, do you know of someone personally who is trying to correct these problems?
3. Can you think of any American leader who has done as much for his country and for the world as Mahatma Gandhi?
QUESTIONS RELATING TO THEME
(A) What Happens When Faith and Conscience are in Conflict
4. See the Quick Discussion Question.
5. There was one other character in the film, other than Shakuntala, who had to decide between the traditional faith and prejudices of society and the demands of conscience. Who was it and what was the decision?
6. What would you do if you are convinced that the requirements of love and respect conflict with the rules that your religion has set down as proper conduct?
7. The priest tells Shakuntala, that whatever happens, she should not lose her faith. Was this good advice? Did she lose her faith?
(B) The Weight of Tradition
8. Why didn't Kalyani just leave the ashram or fight harder for her love and her life?
9. In this film, Shakuntala and Kalyani faced similar crises. What were they and how did they resolve them?
10. Why didn't Shakuntala get on the train with Chuyia?
(C) The Oppression and Abuse of Women in a Patriarchal Society
11. In a patriarchal society in which women do not have rights, what happens to women who are not under the protection of a man?
12. What is the most subversive line in the film? Chuyia says it. How do the adults around her react?
13. What of the male spiritual counselor's statement that, "We only follow the laws that benefit us"? Certainly, following the law would have benefitted widows. Who was the "us" he was referring to?
(D) Can Someone Forced to Live in Corruption Like Kalyani Retain Her Integrity?
14. Kalyani quotes a saying attributed to Krishna: "Learn to live like a lotus untouched by the filthy water it grows in." What does this mean, why does she need to believe this, and what role does this saying play in the organization of her personality?
15. What do you think about the lotus verse? Can a person live among corruption and not be tainted?
QUESTIONS RELATING TO LITERARY DEVICES USED IN THE MOVIE
16. See Standard Questions Suitable for Any Film
17. Remember Shakuntala's long look at the end of the movie? What does that look mean?
18. This movie is the story of three great loves. What are they?
19. This plot consists of several stories that are linked together. What are they?
20. Narayan and his friend talk about Shakespeare's play "Romeo and Juliet". What element of the plot in the movie is similar to a plot element in "Romeo and Juliet"?
21. What is the role of Chuyia in telling the story of this film?
22. Three living beings are broken in the course of the movie. What are the circumstances of each?
23. Early in the movie we see dark rain clouds. What do they foretell?
24. The character of Madhumati, the fat widow, is a symbol. What is she a symbol of? Is there anything sympathetic about this woman?
25. Water is a symbol. What does it symbolize?
26. The character of Narayan is a symbol. What does he symbolize?
27. Why does Narayan quote a poem about a cloud messenger?
28. Cite three examples of irony in this movie.
29. Which character changed the most through the course of the movie? Describe the pressures that caused that character to change.
30. Who is the most enigmatic character in the film?
31. Describe Chuyia's character and personality during the time she is at the ashram.
32. Put yourself in Chuyia's shoes. Eight years old; sent by her family to the ashram and abandoned there with no idea how to get home; living with these strange old women in deprived circumstances. And then the old widow dies, Kalyani dies, and Chuyia herself is sexually abused. Shakuntala, the only widow left who has shown her any affection, shoves her onto a train. What could be going on in Chuyia's mind?
33. Before Chuyia came what did Shakuntala, as a widow, miss in her life? Gandhi told us.
34. What was Shakuntala's situation when she was listening to Gandhi at the train station?
35. Who did Shakuntala love and what happened to that love?
36. What was the significance of the scene in which Shakuntala asks Chuyia what she looks like and the girl responds that Shakuntala looks old?
37. Kalyani and Mitthu, the bird of Madhumati, are symbolically linked. Describe those links.
38. The first thing that Kalyani asks Narayan is whether he is gentry. Why does she do this and what does this say about her?
39. What was the importance of the scene in which Kalyani insists that Narayan turn the boat around and take her back to the city?
40. After Kalyani came back to the ashram from the boat ride with Narayan, believing that her future was hopeless, what opportunity did Madhumati offer her?
41. Why didn't Kalyani wait outside the ashram for Gulabi rather than go to the river to commit suicide?
GENERAL AND HISTORICAL QUESTIONS
QUESTIONS RELATING TO RELIGION AND RELIGIOUS SYMBOLS
42. In this movie do you see a swastika? Where was it? What does it signify?
43. It was the hope of the widows that they would be reborn a man. Why?
44. This movie shows people such as the widows and Chuyia's father as helpless in the face of religious tradition. Was there really no alternative?
45. Do you agree with Gandhi that "Truth is God" and that the pursuit of truth is invaluable?
46. Do you agree that the religious restrictions on widows are about money and not really a matter of religion?
47. Put yourself in Madhumati's shoes. She is responsible for the ashram. Begging doesn't bring in enough money. The only other way to get money is prostitution. What do you do? (Note that the director of the movie reported that rarely can people who run ashrams keep their desire for personal gain in check.)
48. In "Water," what is being done in the name of religion that is corrupt?
49. Did you see any similarities between Hindu religious practices shown in this movie and Western religious practices?
50. Critics of religions have said that many times faith is used to induce people to accept their repression. How does that statement apply to the situation shown by this movie?
51. How does Narayan's father justify his actions? Is he a hypocrite?
52. One of the characters says of Kalyani, "God willing she'll be reborn a man." What did she mean by this?
OTHER GENERAL AND HISTORICAL QUESTIONS
53. When Narayan tells his mother that he has found a wife on his own, the first thing that Narayan's mother asks him is whether she is dark or fair skinned. What was that about?
54. Do you fault Kalyani for becoming a prostitute?
55. The basic colors in the film are muted greens and blues. Why is that?
56. The priest says that "it is ignorance that is our misfortune." How does that play out in this movie?
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Social-Emotional Learning Discussion Questions:
1. Why is the treatment of widows in India a human rights issue?
2. Kalyani felt that she had nowhere to go and committed suicide. Was this feeling reasonable?
3. What does this film tell us about the great flaw of suicide?
4. Three people are shown in this film who try to break out from the life that society expects them to lead. Who are they and what is their act of breaking out?
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Moral-Ethical Emphasis Discussion Questions (Character Counts)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
(Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule; Be tolerant of differences; Use good manners, not bad language; Be considerate of the feelings of others; Don't threaten, hit or hurt anyone; Deal peacefully with anger, insults and disagreements)
1. What is wrong with the way that Madhumati treats Kalyani?
(Play by the rules; Take turns and share; Be open-minded; listen to others; Don't take advantage of others; Don't blame others carelessly)
2. What parts of this Pillar of Character conflict in this story?
(Be kind; Be compassionate and show you care; Express gratitude; Forgive others; Help people in need)
3. People on the street would often give money to the widows and think that they were being caring. Were they?
Teachwithmovies.com is a Character Counts "Six Pillars Partner" and uses The Six Pillars of Character to organize ethical principles.
Character Counts and the Six Pillars of Character are marks of the CHARACTER COUNTS! Coalition, a project of the Josephson Institute of Ethics.
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Are you concerned that time will be wasted if you are absent from class? Worry no more . . . Check out TeachWithMovies' Set-Up-the-Sub.
Bridges to Reading: A novel of the same name based on the script for the film was written by Bapsi Sidhwa. See also Mohandas Gandhi: Power of the Spirit by Victoria Sherrow.
MOVIES ON RELATED TOPICS: Gandhi and A Passage to India.
Links to the Internet:
Widow's Rights International;
CNN World News -- India's widows live out sentence of shame, poverty;
Tradition of Sati in India;
A Hindu Widow;
The Plight of Widows in India;
The Sati System, a list of web sites relating to Sati;
Women In White: India's Widows on Sikhspectrum.com;
Indian Widows Find Refuge in Krishna;
Vrindavan Widows Are Still Sexually Exploited -- Study; and
Gandhi and Status of Women by Jyotsna Kamat.
Projects and Activities:
Assignments, Projects and Activities for Use With Any Film that is a Work of Fiction
Have the class change the ending so that Kalyani did wait for Narayan under the tree near the temple. What happened when he came to find her?
Change the ending so that Kalyani went with Gulabi as instructed by Madhumati. What happened when Narayan came to find her?
Have students write an essay comparing the treatment of widows in sub-Saharan Africa with the treatment of widows in India.
Have students write an essay on the current state of widows in India.
Have students apply the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the treatment of widows in India and the Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
PHOTOGRAPHS, DIAGRAMS AND OTHER VISUALS: See White Shadows a photo essay about widows in the town of Vindravan by Twefic el-Sawy.