Despite having had Netflix for a few years, it’s only now that I’m going on a major spree (before, it was only when “good” series dropped – like The Crown). My most recent binges have been Atelier (more on that in an other post) and Daughters of Destiny. The latter is a four-part documentary following several girls from the poorest of poor communities in India. These girls, mostly from Dalit caste (formerly known as “untouchables”), would not have the opportunity to have the kind of education upper-middle and upper class Indians have, not only because of their place in society, but because they’re female.
These kids (the school is co-ed, but the documentary only follows girls) attend Shanti Bhavan, a school founded by Abraham George, an American man of Indian descent who felt that he needed to give back to the country of his birth. Only one child per family is allowed to attend the school and they are sent at the age of four and expected to stay until they graduate from high school. From there, they are taught a very challenging curriculum and are prepared to take India-wide exit exams similar to GCSEs and A-levels in the UK. The point of the school is to alleviate poverty – that a good education would lead to a well-paying, white-collar job. From that point, alumni of Shanti Bhavan would be able to earn higher wages and help their families. It’s A LOT of responsibility to carry. And these kids know from a very young age.
In many ways, I feel badly for the kids. Not only are they sent to boarding school at such a young age, and thus, only see their parents during holidays, but their upbringing by the school makes them, culturally speaking, different from their parents. They have a more worldly outlook, and for the girls especially, culture clash awaits at home, not to mention, jealousy. There are those who still criticize the family and the girls themselves for being more “worldly,” and question why they are not yet married, despite only being 16 or 17. Of course, that kind of life is all they know, and thus, don’t know that things could be very different – and life-changing. There’s a reason why these parents sent their children to boarding school at FOUR and not FOURTEEN.
Most of the girls featured in the movie graduated from the school and went to pursue post-secondary studies (another one was very young and was still at the school when filming ended). While, yes, there were culture clashes there too – the class divisions between classmates and the alumnae from Shanti Bhavan finally hit – most of them seemed to be able to pull through. One alumna, however, wanted to do more than what she was destined to do. On one hand, she knew that she had to get a “real” job in the professional/corporate sector – something which would allow her to help family – she was also a budding musician and wanted to sing. When come from poverty, becoming a singer is just to high a risk to gamble on, and thus, not encouraged by the school. Of course, it doesn’t mean she can’t sing for fun!
While it was certainly a great documentary – especially with a focus on girls, as Indian culture itself is still so divided – I would have liked to see more about the boys. It would be interesting to find out how their views on women differ from their families, and whether there’s a cultural disparity between them and their families when it comes to how they view women’s roles. Right now, the oldest Shanti Bhavan alumni – male AND female – are still too young to make a real impact on change since they’re only in their 30s, but you never know. Only time will tell.