Bas! A documentary that paves the way to cultural innovation: valuing women in India!

This documentary, to which the Canadian International Development Agency and other partners brought their support, shows how the Rescue Foundation located in Mumbai, India, rescues, rehabilitates and repatriates girls who have been sold for forced prostitution.

The documentary tells us just enough about how child trafficking is organized, how these young women are being manipulated and how traffickers and the women who operate the brothels work together. According to the Rescue Foundation, a 14 or 15-year old Nepali girl can be sold for as much as 150 000 rupees (approx CAD $3600) in Mumbai’s largest brothel networks. The documentary also explains how these young women are led to believe that they will remain for the rest of their lives in brothels. One key argument is that going back to their home is impossible since their soul and body have been spoiled forever and that would only bring shame to their parents and relatives.

I got however increasingly puzzled by, and somewhat uncomfortable with the notion that getting married represented for most of these young women the only way out. At one point or another, they have to leave the Rescue Foundation behind and pursue a “normal” life. Both Wendy Champagne and Denis McCready, Producer, were available at the end of the projection to discuss with the audience. This is how I understood that several of the men who choose to marry these young women come from regions in India where there is now an important gender imbalance. Of course, I couldn’t help but make connections with medical technologies such as ultrasound and other prenatal tests that facilitate the elimination of female foetuses in countries where women are seen as less valuable.

While their study is based on hospital records only (which is an important limitation given the fact that two-thirds of births take place at home or outside medical institutions), these authors have found “that gender bias exists regardless of religion, caste and socio-economic class, although it seems that it is more prevalent among the middle classes compared to the poor.”

Now, getting back to the documentary, a movie like Bas! does certainly raise awareness and may help prevent other young women from falling prey to trafficking. One is forced however to recognize that such disturbing cultural practices have multiple ramifications, including so-called technological “advances.”

This is one of the reasons why I believe that another story must be told about women who survive child trafficking and forced prostitution. They should be valued for what they are: living proofs of how human resilience may be nurtured. What they went through makes them different, more knowledgeable about some of their country’s shortcomings and about how social prejudices must be challenged, not reinforced by medical technology. Perhaps only men with a heightened respect for who these women are should pretend for marriage? Or perhaps these women should be supported to pursue their life as singles? The story nevertheless should tell to the rest of the world that cultural shifts —sometimes way beyond technological breakthroughs— are part of the greatest inventions of all.

The video trailer is available here : Bas! Beyond the Red Light – documentary trailer

Author : Pascale Lehoux, Ph.D.


Sahni, M., Verma, N., Narula, D., Varghese, R.M., Sreenivas, V., Puliyel, J.M. (2008). Missing girls in India: infanticide, feticide and made-to-order pregnancies? Insights from hospital-based sex-ratio-at-birth over the last century. PLoS One. 3(5):e2224.

George, S.M., (2006). Millions of missing girls: from fetal sexing to high technology sex selection in India. Prenatal Diagnostic. 26(7): 604-9.

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