Sitting in a packed theatre at the National Film Festival’s screening of documentary-maker Vibha Bakshi’s “Daughters of Mother India” one cannot banish the question of what went wrong with Leslee Udwin’s documentary on the same theme, similarly named “India’s Daughter”. Both the films had taken up the exemplary case of the 16th December, 2012 where a 23 year old medical student was gang-raped and brutalized in a moving bus on the night roads of Delhi. By the time the 45 minute film ends the differences were clear and also the idea of how far can filmmakers push our government before it bans or awards a particular film.
Vibha Bakshi, takes the Nirbhaya case as one of her narrative points, the other being the relatively less covered case of 5 year old Gudiya, where she too was gang-raped. While Udwin’s documentary had stuck to the details and the aftermath of Nirbhaya’s story this film breaks the mould in taking a more panoramic view at the rising incidence of sexual violence against Indian women. Additionally, in its eagerness to cash in on the sensationalism inherent in Nirbhaya’s case, “India’s Daughter” was accused of trading its objective distance for staging the interviews of certain people featured in the film. Not to mention the poor light in which the film had presented the Indian police forces and representatives of the country’s legal system.
These are places where Bakshi’s film scores. Her film includes a wide range of perspectives from both the sides of the debate, i.e., the people who think it is the woman’s fault and the people who think it is an effect of the patriarchal mindset ingrained in Indian society. So, while the average urban educated Indian will be appalled at the casual tone of a driver proclaiming, that women should just stick to house chores they will also find solace in the insights presented by social experts behind this damning attitude standing as a major roadblock between the Indian woman and her right to her own body. Dipankar Gupta, a sociologist explains the existing social bias behind the birth of a girl child with the ritual of the ‘Kanyadan’ in Hindu marriages where the bride-giver’s family intrinsically becomes socially inferior to the bride-taker’s family.
Secondly, Bakshi takes Nirbhaya’s incident to open the dialogue in the documentary and goes on to focus on Gudiya’s case, from where it also touches on the high incidence of Child Sexal Abuse in India and the ensuing sensitization schools are introducing amidst their kindergarten children. From here, the film turn its investigating eye towards the possible causes of such common sexual aggression found in the Indian male towards their female counterpart. Bakshi, includes the burgeoning adult film industry in the country, the reckless commodification of the female body with a rising fetish for consumerism and the consequent sexual deprivation in the low-income group of Indian male to hire sexual services as the probable causes.
Lastly, Bakshi also succeeds in drawing the Delhi Police Force in a more humane light. Featuring women like Leila Seth (celebrated Indian jurist and member of the J.S Verma Committee of Anti-Rape Laws), Kiran Bedi (former IPS officer and social activist) and Suman Nalwa (serving in a strategically important post in Delhi Police) Bakshi builds up the case of the Indian woman’s visibility in the governing and executive bodies of India. Filming a session of gender-sensitization in the Delhi Police Force the filmmaker also effectively draws out the frustration of the Indian police for being stereotyped as anti-people. Kiran Bedi, tries to chart a map for progress with her “6 P” formula where the six-pronged agencies of Parents, Police, Prosecution, Politician, Prison and Press should be mobilized to bring about long-lasting change in attitudes, policies and methods of execution. While this sounds like a holistic vision towards development the ground reality remains the cold facts of 9,999 foetuses turning out to be females out of 10,000 foetuses that were aborted in India. Amidst, this journey to search for an answer to the long-entrenched dualities in Indian society’s treatment of women, one prosecution lawyer for the convicted in the Nirbhaya case equates the Indian woman to a ‘flower’ whose fragile balance in society is dependent over the arbitrary fact of her location, either in a ‘gutter’ or a ‘temple’. On the other hand, Gudiya’s parents her relieved that she would have a second chance at life because the crime against her happened when she was so young. Had she been older, about 10 or 12, she might have the added risk of social shaming. True Bakshi appears to have rephrased the title of Udwin’s documentary “India’s Daughter” to “Daughters of Mother India”. But she goes on a different track than just documenting facts and asks difficult questions on behalf of these daughters while simultaneously trying to locate the silent “Mother India”.