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Bihar village plants a mango harvest for every girl born
NIDHI GUPTA  22nd Jun 2013

A still from the documentary

iving in a country where words like Khap and foeticide are quite commonly found in the public sphere, debutante director Kunal Sharma's documentary comes as a pleasant surprise. Mango Girls is a journey into Bihar's hinterland to find a 150-year old tradition making for a heartening reality.

In a tiny village called Dharhara in northern Bihar, for every girl born, her family plants a minimum of 10 mango trees, the fruits of which go on to fund everything from her education to dowry, if and when the need arises. Sharma, who hails from Bihar, says he was tired of hearing all the negative stories about his state and thought of telling the world about this little movement.

"I have two sisters of my own — and I have seen atrocities against women happening in my own village," says Sharma, who hails from Bhagalpur. "I first heard of this story only three years ago, when I read it online on an international magazine," he says. The proximity of the story itself prompted him to document it.

The movie follows the narrator, who gets off at the Bhagalpur station in Bihar and travels 35 kms to Dharhara, stopping on the way to chat with people, young and old, about their lives and this tradition. Upon reaching the village, he meets, among others, Prabhu Dayal Singh, a village elder who has planted over 1,000 trees in the region; and a woman who, having adopted an abandoned girl, has complied with the tradition.

According to Shubhendu Kumar Singh, whose family is said to have started the tradition, his ancestors started planting mangoes because they wanted girl children to be a cause for celebration, not worry. But now, at a time when climate change is also a grave reality, this simple practice is reaping unprecedented rewards.

As Singh points out in the film, the mango trees provide the village with some insurance when the floods come and wash away everything. In this manner, the trees not only provide social security for the girls, but also for the entire village.

The film is produced by Robert Carr, the man behind the Retina Circus in San Francisco, who is also a US-based pioneer in the media arts. He and Sharma also launched a Kickstarter project last year to fund the post-production of the movie, but without much success. They did, however, succeed in getting testimonials and expert comments from film director Mahesh Bhatt and social activist Kiran Bedi, both of whom find in this initiative the potential for setting a greater example and creating a larger movement.

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