Something Like a War is a thought-provoking examination of India’s family planning program from the point of view of the women who are its primary targets. It traces the history of the family planning program and exposes the cynicism, corruption and brutality which characterizes its implementation. As the women themselves discuss their status, sexuality, fertility control and health, it is clear that their perceptions are in conflict with those of the program.
In late December 2020, Muskan Jahan (right), a 22-year-old woman suffered a miscarriage when she was detained under the UP Prohibition of Unlawful Conversion of Religion Ordinance 2020 pursuant to a report by members of Bajrang Dal. She alleged that district hospital administered injections which caused her to bleed profusely and lose her child as a result.
Muskan and her child became a victim to the controversial ordinance, though it isn’t the first time in Indian history that a woman had to bear the brunt of atrocious and inhumane legislations. Such events hark back to 1976 during India’s Emergency – the dark age of Indian democracy. The constitution act of 1976, amended by Indira Gandhi during the emergency provided central government with the right to execute family planning programs that led to compulsory sterilization campaign in which millions were incentivised/forced for sterilisation. “Something Like A War,” directed by Deepa Dhanraj is a documentary released in the year of 2003 that documents the cynicism and brutality of India’s family planning program.
Spearheaded by Rajiv Gandhi, the family planning program led to millions of men receiving vasectomies. Following several outbursts and protests, the country switched to targeting women through coercion for they were less conducive to retaliation. The 63-minute-long documentary strips away the sheen of what was dubbed by Rajiv Gandhi as, among many things, a means to eradicate poverty, as it provides a vivid narration through the point of view of women who became the ideal target for what turned out to be failed program. Something Like A War, captures several accounts of women who were coerced by the government to undergo tubectomies or receive birth control devices.
In one of her speeches, Indira Gandhi said “some personal rights have to be kept at abeyance for the human rights of the nation,” and that is what was practiced during the time. It documents how women were used as guinea pigs as NORPLANT trials were conducted on 3500 women without consent. Salaries were withheld until people found “willing cases” for sterilisation, lies were sold and people were coerced to participate in the drive. Several women died post procedure and many others faced complications as a result of botched surgeries.
Shot with fastidious care, it provides an insight to women’s status in India and underlying patriarchy in the society as a group of women discuss among themselves, their status and sexuality. Cinematographer Navroze Contractor captures through his lens, the misery, anger and a helpless desire to be heard etched deep within them as they discuss how they are deemed necessary only if they give birth to a male child. Commenting on several other topics such as the hush hush around talks about menstruation, with accounts of sexual abuse and women made ashamed of their own body, Deepa Dhanraj exposes the injustice they face. It provides a grim but accurate representation of women in India all while highlighting the various social factors that influenced the reproductive choices they made during the Emergency.
Deepa Dhanraj’s Something Like A War examines, with artistic magnificence, how women were subjected to injustice as the government was deaf to all entreaty in the name of social reform and briefly comments on the insinuated role of women in Indian society.
Md. Saemul Haque Noori is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Varda Ahmad
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.