Keep Her Under Control: Law’s Patriarchy in India
This provocative documentary, which explores the role of women in a Muslim-dominated village in Rajasthan, in northern India, is original, compelling, and instructive, and it is sure to stimulate discussion and analysis in any course that studies gender roles, Islam, India, or cultural anthropology.
The film focuses on the dramatic story of a woman, named Hurmuti, who refuses to live by the moral and legal codes of the village’s Islamic patriarchy. Hurmuti is the eldest wife in an extended family, but she has had a long-term — and well-known — affair with another man in the village. The film examines her conflicts with her extended family and with the all-male Islamic Village Council over her own conduct and over her insistence on the right to arrange the marriages of her pre-pubescent daughters.
As Hurmuti’s fascinating story unfolds it is interwoven with scenes that illustrate the process of growing up female in the village: the play of children; the talk and the duties of adolescent girls; marriage customs; dowry issues; relationships with mothers-in-law; rights to land ownership; and even spirit possessions.
Viewers will experience a wide range of emotions, grapple with an array of stimulating questions, and in the end be forced to consider how Hurmuti’s life options would have been different if she had been born male.
The film is based on ethnographic research carried out in Rajasthan over the past two decades by the producer, Prof. Erin Moore, of the Dept. of Anthropology, Univ. of Southern California. An in-depth Instructor’s Guide sheds additional light on the issues covered in the film and provides background information on Indian and Muslim social and legal customs.