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Himanshu Roy

IWB Blogger

Filmmaker Lubna Yusuf On Why Empowerment Policies Fail Girls Like ‘Maida’

  • IWB Post
  •  November 14, 2019

The sight of a little girl cycling to school in rural Bihar is a well-known and much publicized aspect of the state’s progress in educating and empowering women. However, it will take us the story of one such girl to understand that there’s more than what meets the eye.

When documentary filmmaker Lubna Yusuf stepped out to chronicle the life of a girl from one of the remote villages in Bihar, little did she know that meeting Maida will give her an altogether new perspective about the challenges women face in rural India. The documentary, titled Maida, gives us a rare peek into the life of the girl, who is now a young mother, having been forced to be a child bride after dropping out of school.

It is the transition of Maida, from a chirpy girl who couldn’t stop talking about her favorite subjects and anecdotes from school to a teenager who now watches the world from behind her veil, cradling her baby, touched Lubna immensely,

IWB chatted with Lubna to know more about her experience of filming the documentary and what she thought about women empowerment ending up just as a buzzword as on the ground, young children like Maida are still forced to live to the tune of traditions which discriminate between a girl child and a boy.

We asked her about the transformation of Maida, as she witnessed her transition from a chirpy girl full of dreams to a silent, obedient, and non-demanding woman, while visiting her year after year. “They settle down and give up easily as household duties seep in. They don’t question their surroundings. Most remain ignorant of their rights,” says Lubna, who herself had to face opposition from the family of Maida as she tried to meet her when she was growing into her early teens.

In the documentary, we get to see that how Maida slowly had to bend under the diktats of society, which resulted in her dropping out from school shortly after class seven and thereafter getting married as a child. When we ask Lubna on her take about how the empowerment policies fail girls such as Maida on the road to growing up, she briefed us on the many shortcomings of such plans, which are generally overlooked by the administration.

Maida (white flour)- Trailer

Maida is a living documentary. Filmed across a span of eight years, Maida traces the dreams and aspirations of a young schoolgirl in an Indian village of Bihar. This documentary explores the societal norms of dowry, child marriage and school drop-outs after the onset of menstruation.

“Policies give empowerment on paper but its implementation still remains with the legal guardian or parents. The policies can supply bicycles and meals but if the parent at home and the culture around is not progressive it just fails to be a changemaker,” said Lubna.

On being asked if she thinks that representation in local bodies such as Panchayats can change this scenario for girls such as Maida, Lubna says that in the rapid mental growth of the child, the silence spoke volumes of the environment she was living in.


What shift in the policies do we need to address this deterrence – the mentality of parents, patriarchal culture of village, etc.?

Training and awareness camps can be arranged for parents in village schools, especially for parents of girls reaching puberty. Awareness films and material can be shown to them and basic laws of dowry and child marriage should be explained.

She is bang on point. The very fact that Maida is being screened in film festivals and are received positively by critics show that people are willing to be a part of the narrative of change that is promised to girls such as Maida.

Let’s talk about how girls become prisoners to the honour of their families after gaining puberty, or to put it better, losing all their dreams at the cost of it.

The concept of honour is important and more acceptable than legal issues probably…

Elaborate a bit more on how this girl child internalized the patriarchal conditioning.

Patriarchy is an ideology not limited to men alone. It is a system that is set as a norm mostly in these smaller settings where women do not even realise that they being subjected to it. It’s a safe space because no one has seen otherwise.


Lubna Yusuf

Lubna goes on to explain how from a very little age, girls such as Maida are made a part of the patriarchal system till it starts becoming a part of their consciousness. “Her folk songs and her entire environment speak of dowry and child labour in fields. She casually sings about a Maruti as dowry and a pinch of poison. So it’s deep set in the region and not seen as abnormal,” she says.

As we sum up the interview, Lubna shares the basic problem that cuts the wings of intelligent and amazingly talented girls such as Maida, how their own self-confidence is eroded by patriarchy. “Children, especially girl children, are not nurtured in rural settings or encouraged to pursue a life outside social norms and this makes them quiet and unsure about what is expected of them vs what they expect of themselves,” says Lubna.

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