January 29, 2022

Great Indian Mutiny

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They save their lives by planting 111 trees when a baby girl is born in a North Indian village

A group of audiovisual filmmakers from Mendoza traveled to India with the inspiration to tell a story that, despite the distances, had many connections to the reality of Argentina. A universal story, far removed in geography, close in affections. Thus, a team consisting of directors Camila Mendes and Lucas Benaford and producer Victoria Saul arrived in the arid lands of Rajasthan. More precisely a kind of oasis: a small town called Piplantri. People living in a village plant 111 trees in her memory every birthday. A move aimed at reversing ancient history as infanticide of newborns is still considered an economic burden in many parts of India.

After months of filming in India, and after making friends with the villagers, the filmmakers completed the documentary Hermanos de los Arbols, which premiered in Argentina in 2020, following a successful tour of prestigious international film festivals such as Malaga. There he won the 2020 Audience Award and Mexico’s DOCSMX, where he received the Special Critics Award.

In this film, community women save lives by planting trees for the birth of their daughters. “Following our intuition, we discovered Piplandri’s story and found that the answer to many of the world’s problems lies in the care of women, water and trees,” say its directors. According to producer Victoria Saul, before the idea for the documentary, there was a kind of forecast: “The director told a friend a dream, a dream that was a journey.” And this friend told her about a small town in the state of Rajasthan.

Producer Victoria Salas traveled to India in search of a story that answers the two best themes of girl empowerment and deforestation.  (Image: Thanks to the Sisters of the Trees)
Producer Victoria Salas traveled to India in search of a story that answers the two best themes of girl empowerment and deforestation. (Image: Thanks to the Sisters of the Trees)

An event to honor the girls arose in 2005 to thank Shyam Sunder Paliwal who lost his 16-year-old daughter and decided to plant a tree in his memory. In her grief, she could not believe that people would end their own daughters’ lives just for financial reasons. India continues to be one of the few countries in the world where the female population is much smaller than the male population: infanticide rates range from 7 to 10. So Baliwal decided to start planting trees. An initiative was formed with a firm commitment to stop the infanticide and forced marriages of the girls in the village and from that gesture, to free them from that historical rule and to involve families for the education of women.

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Ballywall received the team from Nexus and Mendoza. This documentary shows the beginning of the hard working idea of ​​convincing the villagers one by one that the foundation of the future is to grow trees, maintain water and educate girls.

“Why fight so far?” The producer asks. And he rehearses an answer: “Sisters of the Trees is a story about how to recover from various problems. We saw her in that distance. We thought it was awesome to be told the story that solves everything like water, women’s empowerment, the right to life of girl children. In a small space they were able to change 5,000 years of thinking and now their action is reflected in 150 cities. The Piplantri model has spread in India especially in the north of the country. Around this initiative, an NGO called People was formed.

Impact

In addition to the empowering action, the planting of already valuable, fruit trees had other implications: it contributes to reforestation and income generation. Shyam Sundar, the village mayor, said it was necessary to “create jobs through natural resources”.

The protagonists of Sisters of the Trees are adult women, who transform the education of girls in India and approach economic autonomy.  (Image: Thanks to the Sisters of the Trees)
The protagonists of Sisters of the Trees are adult women, who transform the education of girls in India and approach economic autonomy. (Image: Thanks to the Sisters of the Trees)

Planting trees is not just a symbol: for every birth of a woman, the family signs a document in which they can take care of her, educate her and not force her to marry.

From the moment the family waits for the delivery, members of the voluntary charity Piplandri come to talk to the pregnant woman. They are conversing with the family, which is about removing the centuries-old story that a girl should be removed from a burden accordingly. The idea of ​​the family paying a deposit of 10 thousand rupees during the visit and the government included the same. When the girl comes of age, she will get that money that she can allocate at will. In return, the family should promise to provide education and not transfer to forced child marriage.

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The film seeks to raise awareness about female infanticide, while at the same time showing the development of a self-managed project by a group of adult women from the city funded by the collective savings. It is a factory of products derived from cactus: gel, shampoo, soap. The effort was made to employ adult females using cactus plants grown around biplantry trees to prevent them from being damaged by termites. The sale of their products gives them an economic freedom that they did not know until a few years ago.

A world (not so far) far away

As we are in solutions, 47% of women in India are forced to get married before the age of 18. According to Girls Not Prides, the World Wide Web has more than 1,500 civil society organizations in 100 countries, with 3 million of the 10 million women who marry each year living in India.

Biplandri's attempt to plant 111 trees every time a baby girl is born is dedicated to taking care of her education, not abandoning her marriage and changing the fate of many Indian women and their families.  (Image: Thanks to the Sisters of the Trees)
Biplandri’s attempt to plant 111 trees every time a baby girl is born is dedicated to taking care of her education, not abandoning her marriage and changing the fate of many Indian women and their families. (Image: Thanks to the Sisters of the Trees)

The epidemic worsened the situation. Childline India, the state child support and counseling service, announced a 17% increase in child marriages between June and July 2020. In Rajasthan, one-third of women between the ages of 22 and 24 were married before the age of 18. In India, girls are deprived of childhood at a very young age.

The Sisters of the Trees is a documentary that looks at that world, a close-up portrait of the lives of Piplandry women showing the positive changes and challenges facing rural women. Among them, Paliwal’s partner Kala is also in the project. “After finishing filming, when we were looking for a co-production in India, we found out that Kala had decided to continue her studies and it was a great pleasure,” says the film’s producer.

The story of Kala is another example of empowerment. She works outside the home and earns her living. Also in the documentary is Pavari, a strong and happy woman in her late 40s who could not finish primary school, but she supports her daughter Nikita’s dream of becoming an educator and doctor. This simple gesture by Leela, a young mother who plants trees on behalf of her newborn baby girl, opens up a whole range of possibilities for her future. They are the daily stories of a project that has already changed their lives forever.

The documentary team maintains that beyond the geographical and cultural gaps between India and Mendoza, the challenges related to gender-based violence and the conservation of natural resources are similar.  (Image: Thanks to the Sisters of the Trees)
The documentary team maintains that beyond the geographical and cultural gaps between India and Mendoza, the challenges related to gender-based violence and the conservation of natural resources are similar. (Image: Thanks to the Sisters of the Trees)

Produced by Hermanas de los Arpols, The Pierce Rest, Syntaxma Cine for Argentina and co-producer Rupa Barua (Kahini Media) for India. It is the only film in the world to be spoken in Marwari, the Indo-Aryan language of the Rajasthani group of about five million people in Rajsamand, Bhilwara, Udaipur and Chittorgarh districts of Rajasthan.

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The next step on the path to this film is to screen the mobile cinema returning to the village there. The villagers never saw the movie screen. The idea is to document this moment: “We want to capture the mobile cinema journey and record the first cinematic experience. Their faces will be the protagonists in the first film they see in the village, ”says the producer.

What brings Rajasthan and Mendoza together in this story? What brings the people of the two worlds closer together? “We, too, come from the desert and live in a country where a woman is killed every 30 hours. The mining problem or violence against women is not foreign to us. ” “With such an old culture, if they change their thinking: how can we not?”, He concludes, highlighting the impact of this cultural change: “Women in the village are no more.

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This note is part of the solutions for the Latin America site, an alliance between INFOBAE and RED / ACCIÓN.

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