Gendercide in India: Interview with Nyna Caputi, producer and director of documentary film “Petals in the Dust”

Petals in the dust 2Nyna Pais Caputi, the producer and director of the film Petals in the Dust, is originally from India and currently lives in the Bay Area. She founded the Global Walk for India’s Missing Girls in 2010, which is an international awareness campaign on “gendercide” in India that has taken place in over 25 cities and five countries. Caputi’s film, Petals in the Dust, is a documentary that brings to light the tragic murders of millions of Indian girls and women due to a preference of sons among Indian society. The film explores the roots of misogyny, the experiences of women across socioeconomic and political lines, and the efforts bring an end to gender-based violence. The upcoming film’s trailer has been screened in numerous cities in India, Canada and USA, and is quickly drawing attention from people. Girls’ Globe catches up with the woman behind the camera.

Jasmine: You are an activist and founder of an international awareness campaign on young girls. How did you come up with the idea of Petals in the Dust? What does this mean?

Nyna: I had always wanted to do a film on social justice. I travelled to India and was looking to adopt a little girl. A supervisor in one of the orphanages told us about how they used to drown baby girls in the lake close the orphanage. I went home and did some research, and discovered that 50 million girls had been killed in India. I interviewed women in India who have faced discrimination across the socio-economic strata. I interviewed activists and found that sex-selection was happening even in the big cities, across geographic, socio-economic and religious barriers, and that women face violence from the womb to the tomb. I then chose to do a film on gender-based violence. I chose the name Petals in the Dust since it is creative and indicates the plight women face when they undergo such violence.

 Jasmine: Tell us a little about your documentary. How does it address the issue?

 Nyna: My documentary has three parts. The first part makes people aware of what the problem is, why it is happening and what the consequences are for India. It then moves to solutions. I have shown activists talking about what they see as solutions.  The documentary includes several NGOs in India. I also interviewed an orphanage that educates and feeds girls. I spoke to Varsha Deshpande, founder of Led Ladkiyaan, an organization that fights against sex-determination and does undercover research on sex-selective abortions.

Jasmine: What did you find after speaking with violated women in India? How did you have them open up to you and speak about their experiences?

Nyna: I spoke to a woman in India who had killed every single female child she had given birth to, until she conceived a boy. It was after talking to her for a while that she told me that she had been raped herself. She didn’t want her daughters to face the same pain and stress that she had faced when she was a child. She didn’t have to worry about her son.

Jasmine: Much of your focus is on the fixed mindset of people on female feticide, even among the elite in the country. How does abortion instigate this discrimination?

Nyna: From ultrasounds to sex-selective abortions, gendercide is a billion-dollar industry. Doctors are quite greedy. Abortion Petals in the dust 3after the first three months of pregnancy is illegal in India and can only be carried out if the mother suffers a health crisis. Doctors are known for aborting baby girls under the pretext that the mother would suffer a nervous breakdown if she had to give birth to a girl. The law is often circumvented and activists in India have told me that even the police and government officials believe that a woman should have a son. Very few law-breakers are imprisoned or persecuted for sex-selection.

Jasmine: I’ve heard of cases in the rural areas where daughters are often killed since they do not contribute financially to the family. Why do you think female feticide and infanticide occur in the urban areas and among the Indians who are above the poverty line?

Nyna: It’s more than just a lack of protection that causes people to discriminate against their daughters. It has now become a status symbol for people living in the cities to demand fancy cars as dowry when their sons get married. Women feel a sense of social incompleteness when they only have daughters as children. The more money people get, the more materialistic they become. Smaller families who don’t have many children, either for financial reasons or otherwise, want to limit their single child to a son. If a family has one daughter, they usually want their second child to be a son, and when they conceive, they have so much technology available to them to make that sex-selection possible. Educated men have told doctors how they don’t feel like a man if they don’t have a son. The mindset is passed on from generation to generation.

Jasmine: You say that sex-selection is often carried out by the educated people. If education isn’t an end to the practice, how can it be curtailed?

 Nyna: Education doesn’t seem to hold any weight with the issue. Doctors, engineers and lawyers have been known to discriminate against their baby daughters.  What we need is gender-studies to be taught to people across the board. Schools should have a mandatory class on gender studies.

Jasmine: What are the responses you are getting? If there is something you want your viewers to take back from your documentary, what would it be?

 Nyna: The trailer is in the process of reaching out to more people. I’ve had people talk about what has happened in their families. We have had walks in over five countries and have received correspondence from various NGOs and non-profits. Many of the protestors are girls as young as 15 years of age in Chennai. If I can motivate young girls to join my cause, my work is already done. I want the way women are looked at in India to change. That starts with discussions on gender equality. Often girls grow up with the belief that they aren’t equal to their male siblings First and foremost, girls need to understand that they are equal to boys. When these girls grow older they prefer having a boy to a girl. We all need to learn to respect women.

 Learn more about Petals in the Dust by visiting and

All photos courtesy of Petals in the Dust.


The Lost Daughters

I have now spent three weeks in India. It has been three weeks of an endless number of impressions, which have made me feel both inspired and frustrated, sometimes at the same time. The main reason for that is because of all the women’s activists I have met who are dedicated to change the future for the small girls of the nation. Because if it doesn’t change, there won’t be many girls left in India.

Sex-selective abortion is illegal in India but widely common. A daughter is far too often considered to be a burden and is therefore aborted in favor of a son. Why? Lack of education is usually the answer to most of the problems we are facing in the world (“If people only knew how to read / take care of their garbage / have a good health”) but female feticide seems to have other explanations. In Goa, one of the states in India with the highest standard of living and literacy rates, there are only 920 girls per 1000 boys in the range between 0-6 years. This means that despite a growing wealth the proportion of females has reduced drastically in the last 50 years.

As a response to this alarming trend the chief minister of Goa has designed a scheme which is supposed to stop female feticide, the so called Laadli Laxmi scheme. The idea is to provide 100 000 rupees to every girl child to use for her wedding ceremony. Women’s activists in Goa are furious. Dowry – the idea that the bride’s family should pay money to the family of the groom – has been illegal in India since 1961 but is still a reason to why daughters are unwanted. With the chief minister’s so-called solution the tradition is however encouraged – what else can these 100 000 rupees be called? The women I’ve met have been frustrated – isn’t it the responsibility of any progressive government to completely eliminate such traditions?

Rajeshree Nagarsekar, is one of them who believes that a solution only can be reached through a change in people’s mindset. In 2012 she started Evescape, Goa’s first women’s magazine, which she now is the chief editor of. In every issue of the magazine one picture spread is dedicated to celebrate the girl child. Parents send in photos of their daughter and write a short note about why they love them.

Meeting women such as Rajeshree makes me believe that a real solution actually can be reached, despite politicians who dodge the question and perpetuate gender discriminatory traditions.