Farha Khatun is a rising Indian filmmaker who directed Holy Rights - a documentary that gathered the memories of women who fought against triple talaq. Significantly, in 2019, the Supreme Court identified triple talaq as a criminal offense and Farha has captured the period perfectly. She has also been parts of critically acclaimed films such as 'I am Bonnie' and 'If you Dare Desire'. Farha has always chosen films that are vocal about human rights, woman empowerment, and other social issues.
Holy Rights (produced by Mosaic in Films) was premiered in the 54th HOF International Film Festival, Germany and has been on screen in more than 13 other film festivals including the 26th Kolkata International Film Festival (KIFF). Farha Khatun spoke to BE's Kuntala Sarkar regarding the journey of Holy Rights along with her take on triple talaq and woman empowerment.
Q. Your documentary Holy Rights has shown the success of struggling Muslim women against illegal triple talaq. What's the current reality here, in your opinion?
A. Even after the verdict was pronounced by the Supreme Court, I have personally experienced multiple women who have experienced the challenge of triple talaq. They were abandoned and had no significant financial security. As their husbands abandoned them, they were shattered. Being a Muslim woman by birth I have witnessed these problems since early age.
In Holy Rights I have focussed on the women of Muslim community. But I have tried to reflect on the overall Indian society. The issue of triple talaq is only a thread to portray the story. Violation of power is observed mostly in case of economically-dependent women. Similarly, economically independent women are less exposed to this challenge because they can resist injustice soon. Beyond family problems and emotional understandings, it is a tussle between the powerless and the powerful. Financial independence is the first step to bring social independence for women.
I have seen women who stood beside their abusive husbands when concerned people tried to help. Beyond rural areas, this happens even in cities. Economic insecurity is one of the major reasons. Women are also abandoned even without giving them talaq. The abusers always try to normalise the situation. So, I cannot state that the verdict could completely change the situation but definitely has softened the burden.
Q. Holy rights directly deals with a particular religious community to which you are affiliated. How did it become a challenge or privilege for you while dealing with this crucial socio-political issue?
A. Mostly it has been a privilege for me. As a Muslim woman, I got an easier access in the groups of Muslim women. These women seemed to trust me more. From early days, being a part of that religious community, I had certain awareness about the challenges and problems that the women are witnessing every day.
Through Holy Rights, I am not pronouncing the 'helplessness' of these women. Rather, I wanted to uphold their individual capabilities. They must be independent financially and socially. Otherwise it will be an impossible trap for them to overcome. I, myself am not a practitioner of religious practices. But because of my understandings, I could easily flow with the Muslim women activist shown in the documentary. Throughout my work, I have tried to show multiple layers and characters of these women. So, I believe mostly it was my privilege.
On the contrary, talking about the challenges, we have faced it. In 2016 before the Verdict was out, we were shooting in an open convention in Kolkata. I was trying to take the opinion of women. While it was a convention for women, the numbers of women present were a few. Some of them actually came up and tried to stop us. They, being Muslim women, were supporting triple talaq. I don't wear burkha. I don't look like a traditional Muslim woman. So, they had doubts at first and were not very willing to talk to us. So, I think there is a lot to be done in the future for better social consciousness.
Q. The production for Holy rights lasted for around five years. During this long period did you experience any change of perspective towards this documentary?
A. Initially, I wanted to make the documentary focussing on women Qazis working across India, because that is a very unique identity. But over the years, the country started to react in some ways apropos triple talaq that I could not ignore. Then I realised that if I cannot put these incidents or reactions in the documentary, then the process of being a Muslim woman Qazi cannot be shown properly. To show the journey appropriately, we traveled to Mumbai, Bhopal, Satna, and Kolkata.
Women actually came up to be Qazis because most of the times, men Qazis didn't listen to the woman's narratives. In case of triple talaq it was a major problem for women. So, the women started to educate themselves to be Qazis so that they can address both the husband and the wife. In that sense, yes with the flow of time, the journey of Holy Rights changed.
Q. Was the budgetary allocation a challenge for you?
A. It was an independent documentary project. So, we had no stable budget. I invested whatever I have earned and saved these years. To many of my acquaintances and team members, I could not even pay fully. So, that's a struggle.
We worked together in the film from the ground of solidarity and similar understandings. Priyanka More, the producer of the film coming on board, made the journey easier.
Q. Please tell us about your future projects.
A. Now I am working on a film that tells the stories of water carriers in old Kolkata for Film Division. It will be a short documentary.
Q. What would you prefer – acting or directing?
A. Undoubtedly, I would like to work more as a director in the future. My works will necessarily travel the aspects of human rights.