Bawandar is based on the true story of Bhanwari Devis gang-rape case. The names of characters and places have been changed for legal reasons. For example, Bhanwaris character is called Sanwari, her husband Mohans character is called Sohan, and their village is called Dhabri (Bhateri in real life).The story is introduced through first-person narration by a foreign reporter called Amy (Laila Rouass), who has read about Sanwaris case in a newspaper. Amy and her friend-cum-interpreter Ravi (Rahul Khanna) visit Sanwaris village to investigate the matter, five years after the gang-rape incident.
Upon their arrival in Rajasthan, Amy and Ravi meet a rickshaw-puller named Sohan (Raghuvir Yadav) by happenstance, who helps them on their way to a village where they encounter Sanwaris rapists. Sohan turns out to be Sanwaris husband, and tells the tale of Sanwaris rape case.Sohan and Sanwari are a married couple belonging to a low-caste Kumhar (potter) community. The couple live with Sohans parents and have a two children, a young girl and a boy. Sanwari makes pots whilst Sohan plies the rickshaw for their subsistence.
While working at a local quarry, Sanwari stands up for her rights to the corrupt supervisor. The news of her bravery reaches Shobha Devi (Deepti Naval), a social worker who works for the Government of India. Her job involves creating awareness amongst the illiterate villagers against social evils like child marriage, oppression of women etc. In Dhabri, she recruits Sanwari (Nandita Das) as a Saathin, a grassroots worker employed as part of the Womens Development Project run by the Government of Rajasthan.As part of her job, Sanwari educates the womenfolk in the village against child marriages and oppression against women, and invites ire of the conservative village elders.
Most of these villagers belong to the Gurjar community, a higher caste. To subjugate Sanwari, five members of the Gurjar community order a social and economic boycott of Sanwari and her family. The villagers stop selling milk to her family or buying the earthen pots they make. When Sanwari informs the police about a child marriage happening in the Gurjar community, five men from the Gurjar household where the marriage was supposed to happen decide to teach Sanwari a lesson. Having had enough of her shenanigans and what they perceive as her affront to their male ego, they collectively beat up her husband and two of them take turns in gang-raping her.
Despite the horrific nature of the incident and the stigma attached to it, Sanwari and Sohan muster up courage and go to the police station to lodged a First Information Report, but the corrupt inspector (Ravi Jhankal) refuses to lodge the FIR in absence of a medical report. The doctor refuses to issue a medical report in the absence of a court order, explaining that he cannot do so because its a rape case. With Shobhas help, the couple finally manages to get a court order. With the court order, they get a medical test done in Jaipur, and a complaint is lodged two days after the incident.However, the rapists are not arrested and roam around freely, boasting about their lustful experience with Sanwari.
Sanwaris case gets nationwide attention after the head of a womens NGO in Delhi gets involved and tries to help Sanwari. The Prime Minister of India himself entrusts the investigation to the Central Bureau of Investigation and offers Rs. 1 lakh as support to Sanwari from the Prime Ministers Relief Fund.The accused are arrested and tried in the court, but they are backed by the local MLA Dhanraj Meena (Govind Namdeo). Meena hires a lawyer called Purohit to defend the accused.
A Gurjar lawyer (Gulshan Grover) defends Saanwari, but faces pressure from his community to favor the accuse. The judges handling the case are transferred multiple times, and the final judgement goes against her, with all 5 of the accused walking away scot free.The movie ends with actress Deepti Naval talking about how Bhanwari Devi has refuses to give up her fight for justice, in spite of unhelpful villagers and relatives, an incompetent police force, and a corrupt judicial system, and is today active as a rape activist who helps provide help, counseling and inspiration to women who have suffered such injustices as well.
Nandita Das, Rahul Khanna
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Vishwa Mohan Bhatt