Born into Brothels is an powerful movie that documents life at the extremes. Henslin (2010) defines social stratificiation as the division of large numbers of people into layers according to their relative property, power, prestige; applies to both nations and to people within a nation, society or other group. With this story, Born into Brothels dares our insight of human resilience, while focusing on the lowest social class system, which is based primarily on possession of money or material possessions (Henslin, 2010) in social stratification. This documentary’s back drop is Caluctta, India, which is home to one of the oldest populations and religious doctrines in the world.
Though India is a country with remarkable history, it suffers from environmental ruin, considerable overpopulation, religious strife and excessive poverty. This is a story about the power of human imagination and determination. It follows the amazing lives of eight children living in one of Calcutta’s most famous red light districts. Zana Briski, Co-Director, teaches photography to these children and tries to gain better educational opportunities for them, while capturing images of their every day lives. Born into Brothels tugs at your heartstrings, but also offers profound and soul stirring questions as to the extent that outsiders can become involved in the lives of others for the only life they know.
Eight children, born into a culture of poverty, an assumption that the values and behaviors of the poor make them fundamentally different from other people that these factors are largely responsible for their poverty, and that parents perpetuate poverty across generations by passing these characteristics to their children (Henslin, 2010), their caste, people’s statuses are determined by birth and are lifelong (Henslin, 2010), is there destiny, and they believe that is all they have in life. These children are born to women that have few options other than “walking the line” which is prostitution, or cleaning houses and most of the men suffer from drug abuse or alcoholism.
HIV/AIDS, murder and crime are prevalent and living conditions are deplorable. In the red light district, which is it’s own city inside of a city; not only do the residents suffer in this harsh reality, every aspect of existnce is contaminated by its grave condition. In essence it is their own form of slavery, form of social stratification in which some people own other people (Henslin, 2010). The main characters are Gour, who is best friends with Puja. Gour worries that Puja will follow in the footsteps of her family. Puja’s family history is from a line of prostitution.
They are regal in the district, as they eat well and dress well. Puja always shares what she has. Manik and Shanti are brother and sister and both eager to learn. Avijit, probably one of the most talented with his photography also loves to express himself in his drawings and paintings. Kochi, is a very strong little girl that suffers a lot of emotional and verbal abuse. She works doing chores from 4 a.m. to about 11 p.m. trying to make money for her family and takes her life for what it is.
Suchitra is the oldest of the group. Gour is fearful that she will be sent to work the line. Suchitra’s mom died and her aunt wants to send her to Bombay to become a prostitute. Suchitra does not see a solution and is fearful to leave her home for this reason. Lastly, there is Tapasi. This little girl has resigned herself to the ideology, beliefs about the way things ought to be that justify social arrangements (Henslin, 2010) that the red light district has engrained into its residents. Tapasi says “ one has to accept that life is full of sadness and pain” (Briski, 2004) her hopelessness as a matter of fact attitude is astounding.
The theoretical application of this film strongly parallels the conflict theory. The conflict theory is a theory by which views society as made up of many different groups that are competing for scarce resources, focusing on inequality (Henslin, 2010). While the movie explores fundamental ideologies regarding the status of women in that society, as most women are considered second-class citizens, most marriages are arranged by families and women have almost no way of protesting. Women are routinely bought and sold as early as age eight and many are forced to come sex workers. The sex workers are socially shunned and because of this, the children are often discriminated against. Because of this reason, getting these children into boarding schools proved to be a great feat.
Born into Brothels opened the windows of 8 children’s lives and their families for a short time. Their photography was and still is being sold to help pay for boarding school for the children born into the red light district. The 8 children featured were afforded opportunities that they would never have otherwise been given. We don’t need to travel to Calcutta, India to put ourselves into other people’s ‘shoes’, we can be aware of what is happening around us right here in our own city. Somewhere out there, there is a stranger, an animal, or even a friend or family member that may need your compassion and understanding. Stretch out your hand; don’t be afraid to open yourself up to the opportunity of putting a smile on someone else’s face and making a difference in the life of another.
Briski, Z. (Director). (2004). Born into Brothels [Motion Picture]. Henslin, J. (2010). Sociology: A Down – to – Earth Approach. New York: Prentice Hall.
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