India’s Daughter: Squeamish about the truth

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Photo: Tehelka archives
Photo: Tehelka archives

The country’s chatterati is having a great time. The issue, over the last few days, had been discussed and debated threadbare. It has clearly divided urban population in two halves. One half advocates the ban on “India’s Daughter,” terming it to be feeding voyeuristic curiosity and portraying world’s biggest democracy as a regressive one. The other half strongly recommends that the documentary is a rude awakening; it gets into the mindset of Indian males and caution vulnerable females of the danger lurking everywhere in the form of literate advocates and illiterate drivers.

Everyone, one who has seen the documentary or one who hasn’t, has an opinion. Neutrality has no space in this big debate. The moment NDTV started showing the promos of the documentary and aired the show which included participants like Nirbhaya’s father and Leslee Udwin, producer of the documentary, talking about the documentary to be aired on March 8th, celebrated as “International Women’s Day”, the social media started buzzing with opinions. With Parliament in session, it fueled the fire further. Rajya Sabha MP like Javed Akhtar and Anu Aga vehemently argued in favour of telecasting the documentary, where as, supported by his party colleagues, the union home minister Rajnath Singh was quick to announce a ban on showing the documentary. “Even in the future, the interview with the rapists will not be allowed to be telecast. The Government has obtained a restraining order on the broadcasting of film. I have sought an explanation on how permission was given to telecast it.

I want to assure the House no such permissions will be given in the future. I am surprised about the circumstances in which such orders (to shoot documentary) were given. I was personally hurt by this, spoke to authorities, made sure all steps taken to stop broadcast,” he told the Parliament. Surprisingly, before announcing ban on “India’s Daughter”, Rajnath Singh had not even gone through the documentary. Even as the Indian government was pressing for not showing the controversial documentary on the December 16 gangrape, BBC went ahead and aired it in UK. The broadcaster refused to pay heed to India’s demand for a global ban saying the film had dealt with the issue ‘responsibly’.

Stoking a debate Leslee Udwin, the British filmmaker whose documentary “India’s Daughter” has been banned, Photo: AFP
Stoking a debate Leslee Udwin, the British filmmaker whose documentary “India’s Daughter” has been banned, Photo: AFP

Originally, BBC had decided to show it on March 8, coinciding with International Women’s Day, but they preponed the airing of the show presumably because of mounting pressure from the Indian government.

Officially, they said that they wanted viewers to see this “incredibly powerful documentary at the earliest opportunity”. NDTV was not so fortunate though. Before NDTV could air the documentary for Indian viewers a Delhi court restrained media from publishing, broadcasting, telecasting or uploading the interview on the internet. In the age of internet and social media, the ban, however, was little or of no effect at all. Links of the documentary were shared on “WhatsApp”, Facebook pages and the documentary was there for viewing of all who have access to internet. I saw the documentary thrice to understand what was so offensive and so unique in it that a country which proud itself to be biggest democracy and where freedom of speech forms an integral part of daily life, stood shaken. Here I will not go into the merits of the documentary as much has been said before, but all the three times I watched the documentary my hatred for Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus in which Nirbhaya was raped, grew more and more, and more than that in the interviews of the two the rapists’ lawyers ML Sharma and AP Singh, I saw the misogynist literate Indians who proud themselves to be morally upright with their rotten mind and stinking thinking. In the hubbub and commotion surrounding the documentary, however, the most illogical argument I heard was how a foreigner can teach us morality, how it was a clear cut attempt by the foreign media to malign the image of such a purist society where women are worshipped none less than goddesses and where cases like Nirbhaya were just an exception. Let’s accept the fact, the government just did the job of ‘shooting the messenger’. The judgment to watch or not watch the documentary should have been left to the public. And instead of wasting time in fruitless arguments, it could have shown some resolve and commitment to ensure incident like Nirbhaya’s don’t get repeated.

Foreign media for the first time has not raised the questions on mindset of Indian where rape victim is held guilty more than the rapist. In a book Rogue Elephant — Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy published in 2014, the author Simon Denyer, who served as Washington Post’s India bureau chief, raised the similar question on Nirbhaya incident as did the documentary. In a chapter dedicated to the incident he writes — “But the deeper reason for J’s death, and for rape of tens of thousands of Indian women every year, is the incredibly low status of females in Indian society; where domestic violence is socially acceptable; where victims of rape and sexual assault are often blamed for having invited their attacks, and are socially stigmatized afterwards. This is a society where nearly half of India’s young women marry before the age of eighteen and too many are treated as slaves by their in-laws; where more than half of young boys and girls between the ages of fifteen and nineteen think that wife-beating is justified.”

Simon further writes – “Just two days after the rape, the opposition parliamentary leader Sushma Sawaraj, a 59-year old, saree-clad traditionalist from Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), had argued that J ‘would live her whole life as a living corpse if she survives.’ Why battle the stigma that surrounds rape victims in India, when one can reinforce it? The BJP is conservative Hindu nationalist party, taking its ideological cues from a nation wide volunteer group, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an organisation that runs schools, charities and clubs aimed at reviving what they see as India’s essentially Hindu culture. Its leader, Mohan Bhagwat, blamed the tragedy on the adoption of western values in Indian cities, arguing that crimes against women do not happen in traditional, rural India.” The BJP was in opposition when Simon wrote this book, now it is in power. So what so far, has the party done to ensure better safety for the women?

Ignominous tales Rogue Elephant, a book by journalist Simon Denyer
Ignominous tales Rogue Elephant, a book by
journalist Simon Denyer

Nothing. RSS leaders are still of the same opinion and BJP’s saffron brigade still treat women as a child wielding machine. I still recall talking to Nirbhaya’s father Badri Nath Singh last December where he said “I don’t feel angry anymore. But feel helpless. It has been almost two years now and the final judgment in ‘Nirbhaya’ case is still pending. In last six months there is a status quo in Supreme Court regarding this incident. Every night when I go to sleep I promise my daughter that justice would be done and next day nothing moves,” Singh says. Badri Nath Singh recalled that on first anniversary of Nirbhaya’s incident they held an event in the memory of Nirbhaya at Constitution Club in New Delhi. Now External Affairs Minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet, Sushma Sawaraj attended the event. She promised that if BJP comes to power, December 16th will be declared “Nirbhaya Diwas”. “Now BJP is in power, leave aside naming December 16th in the memory of my daughter, I still have to get an appointment to meet Sushma Sawaraj, though I have made many attempts for that,” So why such a storm was raised when “India’s Daughter” raises questions on inefficiency of the system as a whole which fails to deprives India’s daughter of their basic rights. In Rogue Elephant, Simon mentions about an equally gruesome incident as that of Nirbhaya. He writes: “My first major trip to rural Haryana had been in 2008, when I had visited a small village called Balla, where a young couple had been strangled to death for daring to fall in love, in defiance of a local custom that prohibits relationship between members of the same village. The woman was called Sunita, twenty-one years old and twenty-two weeks pregnant. Her father had confessed to killing her himself; an uncle and two cousins had also been arrested. But what was so striking about the particular murder, what still shocks me today as I think back, was how everyone I spoke to in that village stood behind the act, publicly proud of what had happened. ‘The people who have done this should get an award for it,’ 48-year old Satvir Singh, a member of the village council told me. ‘This was a murder of morality’.”

So why was his book not banned, it raises similar questions on the mindset of Indian male where women are killed in the name of honour.

Simon writes about the stigma attached with rape victims. “Such is the stigma surrounding the victim of rape that even married women who suffer sexual attacks are often cast out by their husbands. Girls are sometime made to marry their rapists in perverse attempt to preserve their honour. Many, perhaps most, rape survivors remain silent rather than denounce their attackers.” Just like Udwin, Simon also met the families of the accused in Nirbhaya’s case. Unlike in “India’s Daugther”, where in a subtle manner it was shown how a normal male becomes a rapist when he finds it is a norm of the society to treat women as servile, Simon is more direct. He writes: “If J represented the India dream, the seventeen-year-old boy who beckoned them on board the bus symbolizes its antithesis. His story is one of child-trafficking and child labour, of abuse and the denial of opportunity, of exclusion from India’s bright future, and the alienation that can breed. His story is one that many middle-class Indians often choose to ignore, or accept as the way things are and always have been.”

He raises question on the efficiency of police to keep crime against women in check.

“Roughly two-third of Delhi police are not even involved in what might be described as regular police work, but are deployed instead to protect the elite from their citizens, acting as armed bodyguards to politicians, senior bureaucrats, diplomats and other ‘Very Important People’.”

The whole point here is when the documentary is banned so why not the book. Perhaps , no politician had the time to read it, and it was not surrounded by the curiosity created as in the case of the documentary.

So ban it now? Only if muffling the sound which raises question against the perennial flaw in the social system could solve the purpose. “Why not, people should watch the documentary and realize in what kind of society we are living. Let us take a cue from it and try to bring the change, “ my wife replied when I asked do you support people watching “India’s Daugther.”

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