MUMBAI: With just two weeks left for the International Women’s Day, it is just apt for TV channels to plan their shows around women. BBC World News is doing just that as it looks at two contrasting documentaries on women issues – Our World: India’s Invisible Women and Divine Woman.
While the first one explores the idea of how in India unmarried women can find their freedom curtailed by moral judgement and stigma, the second is the journey of award winning historian Bettany Hughes across continents and back in time to trace the hidden and often controversial history of women in religion.
In Our World: India’s Invisible Women, which is a part of the Freedom 2014 Season and a BBC World News documentary, Rupa Jha travels across the country to meet women who are single by choice or as a result of death or divorce and discovers some uncomfortable truths. The documentary will be aired on 8 March, 2014 at 5 pm and 9 March, 2014 at 11 pm.
In her journey, Rupa meets a successful career woman in her 20s who is single by choice but is under social pressure to get married. She faces a lot of discrimination because of her choice to be single. While her parents respect her decision, they too feel pressured to help her find a husband. Rupa also meets a widow whose situation following the death of her husband is a familiar story in India, where widowed women are often seen as emotional and financial burdens on the family. Having suffered abuse at the hands of her married son she left her family and now lives in the Holy City of Vrindavan with some 15,000 other widows.
Another story that Rupa discovers is of a woman whose husband has abandoned her. She receives no financial support to care for their young son and would rather go back to her abusive husband than face the shame of divorce and single parenthood. Despite the fact that the number of divorce cases in India have trebled, there has been no increase in legal resources. Rupa talks to a female divorce lawyer who provides counselling sessions for divorced women, and believes that Indian society needs to change and stop stigmatising divorcees.
In the second, which is a series of three episodes titled - When God was a Girl; Handmaids of the Gods and The War of the Words - Bettany Hughes uncovers few interesting facts about women. The series is scheduled on BBC World News from 15 March onwards on Saturday at 6.40 am and 8.40pm and Sunday 2.40 pm.
In the first episode, she goes back to the beginning of time and visits the world's oldest religious site to find startling evidence that women were part of the very birth of organised religion. She visits a world where goddesses ruled the heavens and earth and reveals why our ancestors thought of the divine as female. Travelling across the Mediterranean and the Near East, Bettany goes to remote places, where she encounters fearsome goddesses who controlled life and death. She travels to modern-day India, where the goddess is still a powerful force for thousands of Hindus. Immersing herself in the excitement of the Durga Puja festival, Bettany experiences goddess worship first-hand, and finds out what the goddess means to her devotees.
In the second episode, she goes into the hidden and controversial history of women's place in religion as she uncovers the lost era of the priestess. She delves into the ancient Greek worship of the goddess of sex, Aphrodite, and finds out what this practice meant for women. Bettany also heads to ancient Rome, where the fate of the civilisation lay in the hands of six sacred virgins. Returning to the crucial early years of Christianity, she finds evidence that overturns centuries of Church teaching and challenges the belief that women should not be priests.
The final episode shows her discovering how the period known as the Dark Ages was in fact a golden age for a few remarkable women. She finds that education and the written word became vital tools for these women and learns how their sheer brainpower put the female of the species back in the heart of religion. Bettany looks at Theodora, a prostitute turned empress, who allied herself with Mary the Mother of God to rule over a great Christian empire. Then, she looks at the legacy of the wives of the prophet Muhammad, including Khadija, the first convert to Islam and Aisha. Bettany also discovers the story of Wu Zetien - a courtesan who harnessed the power of a philosophy, Buddhism, to become the only woman to rule China as emperor. And finally, she explores the history of St. Hilda, a great educator and wise woman, who presided over the crucial conference, the Synod of Whitby, which decided when Christians in Britain celebrated Easter, and cemented the islands' links with Rome and Europe.