India’s exponentially growing population, predicted to exceed China’s by 2025, has pushed leaders throughout the country's history to consider sterilization policies for population control. In the 1970s, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi attempted to enact a forced sterilization policy on unmarried men, but the policy failed, pushing the focus of future efforts towards women. Because population size in India remains an issue, with extreme poverty and overpopulation straining the country's resources, sterilization still remains an important issue in the country.
Today, more people question moral practice of sterilization, particularly its effect on women and their role in India’s society. Filmmakers Anne Munger and Zoe Hamilton produced Nasbandi, a film looking at the choices of four women in the rural village of Uttarakhand, India, tying in greater issues of gender equality in India. In March, 2015, Nasbandi was an official selection at the Socially Relevant Film Festival in New York. NBN spoke with Munger about the filming process and her conversation with Northwestern students, presented on Northwestern’s campus by SHAPE on Wednesday, November 11.
What is Nasbandi about?
The film is about four women who live in a rural village in India. It focuses on their decision to get sterilized. Nasbandi follows the different methods and history of sterilization, and also its effectiveness as a policy decision, and how it’s been covered, or not covered, in the media. Our film is complicating an issue that hasn’t gotten that much attention from the media in the past.
What did the process of filming look like? How did sterilization of women become your focal point?
My partner Zoe and I were in Uttarakhand, India, doing other work and some research on various topics focusing on women’s health and women’s reproductive health. The topic of sterilization started popping up more and more so we started focusing on sterilization in our interviews. Then we moved towards online research to see what other people and research were saying. Based on these findings, we focused on four women and their decisions to or not to get sterilized. Seeing their daily lives and daily interactions with each other, you start to get a feel for what daily life in the village is like.
What were you most surprised to discover while filming?
The biggest revelation for us was that when we were reading about sterilization from sources other than women themselves, we found they focused on the negative aspects of sterilization and sensationalized it. Activists often consider the practice coercive, because women may be compensated or pressured into getting sterilized. We went into thinking that women’s voices would reflect that of the media. But we found that women were educated about their choices regarding reproductive health. The question still remains whether the practice is coercive, or if women have the knowledge to make the reproductive choices that we don’t see represented in popular media. Also, we found it surprising how deeply rooted gender inequality is placed in the culture. There is a clear preference for male children over female children, which is clearly stated, such as when Roopa won’t get sterilized until she has a boy.
Why do many families in India continue to have large families, despite the benefits of having only two to three children?
I think a big part of it is gender, or a lack of education about what choices are available for birth control. But at the same time, India is a huge country, full of many different cultures, and we focused on this one specific rural region. It’s hard to make generalizations at large about the country. For this particular region, it was a gender thing. These people were isolated, but they were clearly educated and could look me in the eye and tell me that smaller families were better but continued to have children because of gender.
How was it showing Nasbandi at Northwestern?
It was the first time I showed this film in a college setting, although my partner Zoe had done it before. I was really impressed how much the audience was able to take away from the film and ask really informed questions. It gave me the opportunity to think about my film in ways that I hadn’t really thought.