Daughters of Destiny is a serial documentary that features a story of one school trying to make a meaningful difference, change the world, and bring hope where none exists, where destiny is pre-carved; in a country, with a population of over a billion people.
Doctor Abraham George completed his education in the United States and found and sold a company. Having made his fortune, he set about trying to change the world. He started a school, Shanti Bhavan, with a mission to improve the lives of the families in the lowest caste in India, the untouchables. While India has made significant strides in creating wealth, most of the wealth has been created in the top 10%, while there are 300M people considered to be Dalits or untouchables, often trapped in a cloying cycle of poverty. The school started with a bunch of kids that included boys and girls in equal numbers. The idea was to remove them from their homes and immerse them into a unique cultural and educational system, to shape them into becoming future leaders, each of them expected to commit to bringing along at least 100 others out of a cycle of injustice and poverty. Only one child per family was selected.
While telling the story of the school, the documentary focuses on a few girls and their struggles, opportunities and challenges. Thenmozhi, seven, is a sweet, talkative girl aspiring for a job called science but finds that education holds her interest on and off. As the documentary proceeds, Manjula, a 14 year old will be expected to help her family come out of the spiralling debt. Preetha could be any ordinary teenager anywhere in the world. She loves music and aspires to have a career in music and is repeatedly advised to choose traditional subjects for her college degree so she can become financially independent. Shilpa nurtures the dream to become a journalist and carries a big weight on her shoulders to give voice to those who may not be able to speak for themselves. And Karthika wants to become a human rights lawyer and help and empower poor people to seek justice and equality, under the law.
This is not an easy road to accomplishing their dreams. Each of these girls encounter various challenges. After getting used to living in clean surroundings of the school where their only job is to study and keep their dorms clean, twice every year, they go back home, where their struggling parents are living in huts, doing back breaking laborer’s jobs, sleeping together on the floor, have meagre rations, and their siblings who have demons of their own, who haven’t been the ones selected to go to Shanti Bhavan, who are still trapped in the same familiar pattern of child labor, lack of education options, likely early marriages, and same cycles of poverty, living out their destiny with whatever is predetermined and written on their foreheads by destiny. These girls are prepared at the school to be patient, humble and understanding when they are back home.
While childhood is easy, more challenges begin when these children graduate from the schools and enter into colleges of their choice (continuing education is paid by Dr. George at Shanti Bhavan). Now they live in a broader world of haves and have-nots, mingle in a world that harbors preconceived notions about cast and wealth and status and station in life. Moreover, as their responsibilities towards their families come closer and into sharper focus, the differences between who they have become and the families they have left behind, become clearer. Questions emerge. “What if it was not me but my sibling who was selected? By 14 then I would be married and maybe even have a kid”. “I got a lottery but do I really belong in this world? Do I belong in any world? Can I ever live at my home again”? “Was it worth it to be transplanted like this from one world to another and what was the meaning of it”? Some children hold deep guilt about how their siblings’ lives turned out, as compared to theirs. Some ask, “can one really transcend history, their past and destiny”?
As children navigate the challenges, negotiate their careers, and dream ahead, one can see that in hustling bustling teeming India, a small history is being made through the accomplishments of these children. In wealthier nations like America, there are albeit other paths besides education, to live a more fulfilled life, to live with equality, freedom and pride. But in India, there is one sure path to live a life of dignity and freedom and it is through meaningful education. But these future leaders at Shanti Bhavan also receive emotional support, cultural education, civic lessons and are let loose into the world with a boat load of expectations to carry forward their debt to society. A girls says towards the end that as per Indian philosophy, if one gets one’s lot in the world according to their karma of past life and therefore if karma is something that already occurred in the past then “I must be able to shape my future”. Though it is challenging for these children to blend their two realities of the world they came from and the world they are actively creating, we can see that for many, everything comes together as they mature and develop wisdom to accept both and yet are not fully shaped by either.