Driving with Selvi
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 8th October, 2016
Although the government of India banned child marriage in 2006, ten years later the practice is still prevalent, though numbers have been steadily falling. There are therefore still millions of young girls in India and other countries in Asia and Africa who are married off well before the age of 18, thereby losing the chance of continuing their education and being put at risk of violence from abusive husbands and serious complications or even death from pregnancies at too early an age. One such victim was Selvi, a young woman in the southern Indian state of Karnataka who was forced into marriage by her mother at the age of 14 and then ordered by her husband to sleep with other men for money. Many young girls in that situation would have committed suicide, but Selvi was fortunate to be welcomed into a progressive centre for young women after she ran away from her husband. There, one of the directors, Stanly (sic), gave her confidence by urging her to learn how to drive which led to her becoming first a taxi driver and then qualified to handle buses and trucks. She also found a loving new husband who was supportive of her unusual choice of career and when her first daughter was born, she determined that the little girl would be spared the misery and exploitation she had had to endure. That, in a nutshell, is the story at the heart of the documentary film Driving with Selvi by Canadian cineaste Elisa Paloschi, who presented it at the Bertha DocHouse in Bloomsbury, London, last night, with support from the United Nations and the Canadian High Commission. But the synopsis does not do justice to the arresting charm of the film itself, much of whose power derives from the extraordinary resilience and determination of Selvi herself, who is filmed over a period of 11 years. She is a simple, uneducated young woman from a small village but she learns how to cope with life in a patriarchal and often exploitative society, finding great joy in the self-validation provided by the experience of getting behind the wheel of a vehicle and being in control. The metaphor is obvious and in less capable hands the movie could have been saccharine, however Elisa Paloschi steers well clear of sentimentality, instead letting the story unfold and Selvi’s growing maturity develop with immense sensitivity and humour. It is a great study of female empowerment, in which anger and despair are channeled into something positive by someone who can be an effective role model for abused girls in India and beyond.. .