In India, acts of sexual violence are often viewed as aberrant, isolated acts of “perversion”. The larger system of misogynistic social codes is rarely taken into account and having grown up in the country, I was conditioned into believing that punishing the perpetrator amounts to doing away with the crime at hand. Jayisha Patel’s short documentary film, Circle, explores the eponymous cycles of internalised patriarchal misogyny that cause sexual violence to propagate.
In a very poignant scene in Circle, set in rural Uttar Pradesh, the teenage protagonist, Khusbu sits while her mother braids her hair. Khusbu, who has been recently gangraped, tells her mother that she is certain that her grandmother had orchestrated the rape, perhaps to earn some money. There is a fixed resoluteness in her voice, a brave surety in spite of the pain she has undergone and in spite of the shame it stands to bring her.
Patel films the never-ending cycle of patriarchy within which women and their perspectives function. The men in the film are silent as they sit on the sidelines; in groups, staring at the women going about their lives: an eternal gaze trapping the women within its boundaries.
Metaphorised through the ceaseless crop cycle in the agricultural community, women working in the fields talk about Khusbu and her grandmother. They say the grandmother brought this violence upon Khusbu because someone had done the same to her. “She expects her granddaughter to suffer, as she did.” While their hands move nimbly over dried weeds, it is evident that Khusbu is neither the first nor the last peg on this wheel: “When my daughter-in-law comes she will be beaten too, like the way I was beaten by my mother-in-law. That’s just how it is.”
Like planting seeds knowing they will wilt; like picking up weeds and running them through a hay-making machine; like feeding cows with the hay and then coming back to plant more seeds.
As Khusbu is finally married off to a stranger, her grandmother hovers around the newlyweds for a photographs. Khusbu, for the first time, looks straight at the camera.
For a circle whose beginning is unknown, one hopes this is the beginning of the end.
Bedatri studied Literature and Cinema in New Delhi and New York, and loves writing on gender, popular culture, films, and most other things. She lives in New York, where she eats cake, binge watches reruns of old TV shows, and makes notes about strangers she meets on the subway. You can give her a holler on Twitter @Bedatri and read her writing at www.bedatri.com.