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‘The Square’ screened at UN Indian film depicts fight of pink sari vigilantes

NEW YORK, Feb 19, (Agencies): The UN Correspondents Association (UNCA) and the think tank, Beirut Institute, hosted, late Tuesday, the screening of the Oscar-nominated film in Best Documentary Feature category ‘The Square’ which documented the Egyptian protest movement in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, from January 2011 till August 2013. ‘The Square’ takes you directly to Tahrir Square as the revolution unfolds from the January 2011 overthrow of the 30-year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak to the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in the summer of 2013. It follows a passionate group of three Egyptian activists as they battle leaders and regimes and risk their lives to build a new society of conscience. The viewers see how those who were united in Tahrir Square to fight for dignity and social justice were forced to stand opposite one another, divided by politics, on the streets of Cairo.

The film shows that it is the most devout of Muslims that will take to the street to fight the abuse of religion to create a fascist state, and for the first time, Muslims in vast numbers fought against political Islam. The Egyptian-American filmmaker Jehane Noujaim and producer Karim Amer attended the screening and answered questions from the viewers. ‘The Square’ was presented as a work-in-progress at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2013; as events continued to unfold, Noujaim returned to Egypt. Her completed film includes material recorded as recently as last August. New York-based filmmaker and director Noujaim is well known in the independent documentary film community, having co-directed and directed, respectively, the acclaimed feature-length films STARTUP.COM and CONTROL ROOM. The Harvard graduate has worked on numerous documentaries in the Middle East and the United States, for MTV News as well as her own independent company. She said she was inspired by a protester’s letter sent out from prison. “We race towards the bullets because we love life, and we go into prison because we love freedom,” it read.

On the Feature Documentary nomination, Noujaim said “this film and this nomination is in honour of the Egyptians who are still struggling as I write this — for their hopes and dreams and for the blood of the thousands that have been sacrificed for the struggle for human rights and social justice.” The film, she added, reveals the “beauty, power, and courage of the Egyptian people — a courage that has taught us and inspired us, and has personally changed our lives forever … It is a witness that the struggle for human rights and freedoms is a universal struggle and this nomination is an international recognition of that struggle.” Amer told the viewers, in answer to a question, that the situation in Egypt is “so immense and complicated that we sometimes forget that other events are happening outside Egypt’s borders, but when we zoom out to the iconic image of millions of people in Tahrir Square, we see an almost identical image in Kiev, and Caracas,” in reference to ongoing protests in Ukraine and Venezuela. Beirut Institute, founded by Executive Chairman and former UNCA President, Raghida Dergham, is an indigenous, independent think tank for the Arab region whose purpose is to produce cutting edge, highly informed policy opinion for leaders.

A gang of women vigilantes, who fight for social justice in rural India and are famed for their pink saris and sticks, are the subject of an award-winning documentary opening this week.The Gulabi (Pink) Gang battles for women’s rights across a handful of districts in the poverty-stricken northern state of Uttar Pradesh, tackling domestic violence, dowry disputes, child marriage and other forms of abuse. The fatal gang-rape of a student in the capital New Delhi in December 2012 caused widespread anger and protests across the country, but such crimes in poorer rural areas still receive far less media attention.

The film “Gulabi Gang”, directed by Nishtha Jain and being released nationwide on Friday, tracks the founder and leader of the group, 56-year-old Sampat Pal Devi. It also explores the workings and recruitment strategies of the gang, whose members now number in the thousands. Jain said she was attracted to making the documentary because the group was “a spontaneous women’s movement in one of the most backward parts of India”. “I wanted to profile not only the leader but also the other courageous members of Gulabi Gang, the majority of whom are poor, old, unlettered and from backward castes,” she told AFP. The film opens with a case in which a young wife has been found burnt to death. Her family blames a fire that broke out when she was cooking. Pal and her comrades believe there is foul play involved and pursue the case relentlessly — offering support to the girl’s parents and ensuring the police conduct speedy investigations.

Their method is to protest, arbitrate, counsel and, in extreme cases, use aggression to drive home their message. But deep-rooted prejudices can still hamper the gang’s work — some members have faced expulsion for standing by male relatives who have abused women. Gang leader Pal, who attended a screening of the documentary in Mumbai last week, said she does not only fight for women. “I try to see the man’s and the woman’s point because if a marriage breaks, the homes of both are destroyed,” she said, adding that she hoped the film would raise awareness and understanding. The film, which has won best documentary awards in Norway and Dubai, also addresses the disconnect between rural and urban communities in India. “The extent of gender and caste violence that goes unreported is shocking,” said Jain. An upcoming Bollywood movie called “Gulaab Gang” is also said to be based on the pink vigilantes, although director Soumik Sen denies it is about them and describes it as a work of fiction.

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