Filmmaker Ravinol Chambers witnessed first-hand incidents of gender discrimination as part of the four-year project.
He said that, in starting to understand the gravity of the barriers many girls face, he realised that it was not a challenge between men and women but more between ‘the past and the future’.
His journey has now been made into a feature-length documentary called Road to Vrindavan and has already been selected for several international film festivals. It has even been praised by activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai.
“The trip was to raise awareness and funds for a girl’s school in Vrindavan,” said Ravinol, 48, who runs award-winning film company Be Inspired Films, based in Birmingham.
He added: “Two of our lead characters, Anuradha and Rashmi were both told they would be married off in a matter of weeks, which would inevitably cut short their education or any hopes for pursuing life outside of marriage. They were 13 and 14 years old.
“Hearing the girls’ stories first hand, enabled me to really see the world through their eyes.
“It forced me to recognise the impact and oppression women experience when society views them as second class citizens, where their voices are not heard, their opinions not considered important and where decisions are made for them. I saw this happen at the hands of men and also women.
“I realised it is not men or women who are to blame, but the patriarchal system that so many people around the world adhere to without even questioning it.”
Ravinol believes it’s vital for traditions to be re-evaluated if gender discrimination issues are to be improved.
“Issues that affect women and girls are not just women’s issues, they are societal issues that affect us all and we must cooperate if we hope to tackle them effectively,” said Ravinol, who is married to teacher Tina and lives in Hagley. The couple say they now plan to raise his sons Hari, aged nine, and Kavi, aged 6, to be ‘feminists’.
“A society that respects and values women is a safer and richer society where everyone benefits.
“It is my hope that people can watch the film with friends or family where possible so that heart to heart conversations across generations can take place. The issues explored in the film are set in India but are nonetheless very much prevalent across the world in different forms.”
“Thankfully there is quite a lot of investment into girls education globally and it is being seen by many as a priority,” said Ravinol, who lived in Vrindavan 20 years ago as a monk.
“There is, however, very little investment into programmes that work with men, and particularly boys, to educate and socialise them to be more gender equitable.
“It is important to create a space where re-evaluating tradition is not seen as taboo and to where possible, encourage the elements of tradition that are meant to uplift rather than oppress.”
Activist Malala Yousafzai has praised the film. She said: “The voices of girls and young women in this movie remind us of the urge and urgency for equality and education right now.
“It also beautifully highlights working with men and boys as an important step towards change.”
During the film, Ravinol interviews a woman who said daughters face ‘destroying their father’s dreams if they become a young girl more successful than them’.
Another woman in the film says ‘this has to change, we have to change the mindset, they cannot treat women and girls like this’ and a young girl added ‘my mother gave money for a boy, nothing for a girl’.
Find out more about the film and how to see it here
“Night schools are an opportunity for young people who are unable to attend school in the daytime due to working on farms,” said Ravinol, who is originally from Ireland and came to Birmingham in 2000 and met Tina at the University of Birmingham.
“Whilst filming, we saw a young girl summoned home by her grandmother to do more work on the farm, late at night, even though this was her only opportunity for education.”
He added: “Another group of girls took part in a census of the girls in their village arranged by a development organisation to find out about their concerns, fears, worries as well as their dreams, hopes and aspirations.
“Before this, no one had ever asked them anything about their feelings or aspirations.
“They went from feeling invisible and insignificant to confident, enthusiastic young women whose voices are represented in the community.
“They realised they shared so many of the same challenges and aspirations and felt so much strength from the relationships they developed with each other.”