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Honorary Degree Goes to Filmmaker Shining a Light on Gender Violence

COM alum Vibha Bakshi’s work also offers hope

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Living in Mumbai in 2012, Vibha Bakshi watched a revolution unfolding in the streets around her. Demonstrators in cities across India took to the streets to protest the gang rape and murder of a 23-year-old medical student on a bus in Delhi and to demand an end to rampant gender violence.

A former CNBC business reporter, Bakshi (COM’93,’96) says she knew the time had come to take a stand against what was happening in her country. The result was her first film, Daughters of Mother India, which she directed and coproduced.

“Not doing this film would have been a crime of my conscience,” Bakshi says. “It was just me, like anyone else, searching for answers for my own gender.”

While reporting on the gang rape of the medical student and public response, the film also offers a startling behind-the-scenes story of the Delhi police investigation into the rape of a five-year-old girl amid the ongoing street protests.

The documentary, which is available on Netflix, has been well received, winning a President’s Award for Best Film on Social Issues at the National Film Awards in India. It was also voted best documentary at the New York Indian Film Festival, and earned two nominations at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Police agencies in India now use Daughters of Mother India and other films Bakshi has made as gender-sensitization tools for 150,000 officers, and the film has been incorporated into the curriculum at more than 200 schools.

Daughters of Mother India

Bakshi’s 2015 film, Daughters of Mother India, confronts the grim facts of gender violence in India, like the gang rape of a five-year-old girl.

For her work bringing the issue of gender violence in her native India to the public’s attention, Bakshi is being awarded a Doctor of Humane Letters on Sunday, May 20, at BU’s 145th Commencement. She will deliver the College of Communication undergraduate Convocation address on Friday.

The documentary proved to be a turning point for Bakshi, who says that initially she had a hard time finding anyone willing to release the film, because it didn’t offer a sensational narrative about wrongdoing. She couldn’t even find an agent willing to get on board, she says. She and her husband, a former Goldman Sachs investment banker who now runs his own private equity company, ended up financing the film themselves.

But Bakshi stuck to her idea, which was to answer the broad and difficult question: how did the nation get to this point? “Instead of focusing on the negative, we decided to give time to people who are trying to make change happen,” she says. “Instead of just going into what’s wrong, we decided to focus on living people, role models.”

The documentary includes interviews with academics, activists, and other experts talking about the cultural roots of the country’s gender violence. She was also granted unusual access to the Delhi police command room for the film, and she just happened to be there when the alert came in about the gang-rape of the five-year-old girl. Bakshi visited the site where the rape occurred for the film, and interviewed the girl’s heartbroken parents.

“Even now I can’t get it out of my head, the way the mother held her daughter,” she says. “It haunted me while I was editing. And it still continues to haunt me.” She gave the prize money she received with President’s Award for Best Film on Social Issues to the little girl and her family.

Following the release of Daughters of Mother India, Bakshi founded her own film company, Responsible Films, producing and directing socially conscious films and public service campaigns. She works frequently with Maryann De Leo, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker of Chernobyl Heart. De Leo was the executive producer of Daughters of Mother India.

Daughters of Mother India poster

Daughters of Mother India has received numerous accolades since its release in 2015.

Born in Mumbai in 1970, Bakshi credits BU with giving her the confidence to emerge from a sheltered upbringing in India to become a filmmaker confident in her voice and willing to take a stand. “I would say the best years of my life were spent on that campus in Boston,” she says. “BU gave me a craft and a confidence like no other. I graduated with the belief that I can change the narrative of the world.”

She says her education also gave her “that fire in the belly” needed to enter journalism. After graduating from COM, she  worked as a business reporter and anchor at CNBC in New York and Asia and helped launch CNBC India.

As she prepares to deliver the COM Convocation address, Bakshi says she wants graduates to understand that human beings can change the world into what they want it to be.

To that end, she is currently working on Son Rise, a follow-up to Daughters of Mother India. It’s the story of a search for ordinary men who have taken up the fight for gender equality. The trailer was unveiled by UN Women, the United Nations organization advocating for gender equality, in anticipation of its release before the end of the year.

Watch the trailer for Daughters of Mother India above.

This year’s other BU honorary degree recipients are Commencement speaker and civil rights icon Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.), Doctor of Laws; Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou, Doctor of Humane Letters; San Juan, P.R., mayor and activist Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto (CAS’84), who will be the Baccalaureate speaker, Doctor of Laws; and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony S. Fauci, Doctor of Science.

Find more information about Commencement here.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at mwj@bu.edu.

2 Comments

2 Comments on Honorary Degree Goes to Filmmaker Shining a Light on Gender Violence

  • Linda Chin Workman on 05.16.2018 at 7:43 am

    Thank you to Boston University for celebrating an artist who uses her “craft and confidence” to inspire, include and invite dialogue about social issues! Bravo!

  • Nausheen Eusuf on 05.16.2018 at 3:43 pm

    Such an important film — kudos to Vibha Bakshi, and to BU for honoring her work. Gender-based violence is a very real problem in Bangladesh (where I’m from) as well. People interested in this story may also find my poem “Elegy for India’s Daughter” of interest. It appeared in the Winter 2018 issue of The American Scholar, and reprinted in Poetry Daily (
    http://poems.com/poem.php?date=17569).

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