[Editor's Note - Let's be honest: the banning of Leslee Udwin's documentary has only succeeded in further piquing curiosity as to why it's something that our government doesn't want us to watch. Whether it's because the views aired are uncannily similar to those we've heard in the past from several of our leaders, or because it raises uncomfortable questions we'd rather not address, 'India's Daughter' sheds light on the circumstances surrounding the ghastly December 16th, 2012, gangrape case that shook up the country. A detailed opinion on the documentary is only one we can formulate after gaining access to the content (at least legally) and today, we have Rahul Verma, an experienced journalist based in the UK, sharing his thoughts and opinions with us after having caught the initial broadcast of the controversial documentary last week.]
As we all know, the largest democracy on the planet banned the NDTV broadcast of ‘India’s Daughter’. In shutting down Leslee Udwin’s documentary the Modi Sarkar has has given ‘India’s Daughter’ all the publicity it could wish for and has made India appear regressive, draconian and churlish.
In Britain, BBC4 brought forward its broadcast from Sunday to the evening of Wednesday, March 4th. My wife and I cancelled our date night and settled on the sofa in our South London flat to see what had ruffled the feathers of the Indian state.
Admittedly Udwin’s fly-on-the-wall footage of Tihar Jail is remarkable as is her interview with Mukesh Singh, one of six convicted (five men and a juvenile) for Jyoti Singh’s gruesome gang rape and murder. His matter-of-fact narration of the before, during and after of the evening of December 16, 2012, is dramatically interspersed with Jyoti’s stoic and composed parents sharing their daughter’s hopes and dreams.
Singh’s lack of remorse is striking, but what’s more unsettling is he doesn’t comprehend the gravity of his actions. It’s his defence lawyers, however, we stared at aghast: AK Singh outlines how he would burn his daughter alive if she was out after dark with a man who was not her husband or family member. For these educated lawyers, Jyoti’s rapists and murderers, and many more men, it is the duty of fathers, brothers and husbands to protect their daughters, sisters and wives. This means policing women and their movements, restricting women to the domestic sphere and ultimately, controlling women.
Women don’t exist as standalone people, individuals, or human beings – a woman’s existence is based upon her relation to men as a mother, daughter, sister and wife. Pinpointing these attitudes is where India’s Daughter excels, so it’s strange that Udwin used the title ‘India’s Daughter’ as it’s reflective of the paternalistic mindset she seeks to highlight.
‘India’s Daughter’ is certainly not without flaws; the interview with Mukesh Singh’s parents and wife at his ancestral home in Bihar is uncomfortable, and identities should have been protected. The power dynamics of a white, English-speaking BBC filmmaker in this situation are undoubtedly problematic. Udwin also dramatizes for maximum impact: Mukesh Singh’s account of Jyoti’s rape and murder is accompanied by (reconstructed) footage of a bus and as he describes her disembowelling, it cuts to Jyoti’s mum crying. Although there probably isn’t a documentary in existence that hasn’t been edited to move its viewers, it’s also possible to inform viewers by flagging reconstructions with a caption.
Despite its flaws, ‘India’s Daughter’ has brought to light how patriarchy is alive, kicking and proud in India today. It’s also part of life in Britain as the brilliant Everyday Sexism (Twitter: @EverydaySexism) project highlights or the fact two women a week are murdered by a partner or former partner. However, in Britain, International Women’s Day is one day of the year when activists, campaigners and everyday people stand together and champion women’s rights globally and and make a right racket where there’s serious work to be done – regardless of whether that’s in India or Britain.
Yet the single biggest issue facing India – the safety, dignity and freedom of half of its citizens – that saw thousands protest like never before, has been swept under the carpet. Why?
Is it because patriarchy is central to Hindutva?
Modi Sarkar’s response to Jyoti’s gang rape and murder is the ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Parao’ program – this presents women as objects to be protected, language that is dangerously close to Mukesh Singh and his lawyers: ML Sharma describes women as diamonds that should be kept behind closed doors, because if diamonds are out at night they will be attacked by dogs.
Lawyer for the rapists ML Singh on what he would do to his daughter or sister if she engaged in ‘pre-marital activities’.
Hindutva is obsessed with protecting our women from rampant Muslim men and corrupting Western influences, resulting in rabid ‘love jihad’ rhetoric and thugs assaulting couples on Valentines Day. What does Raksha Bhandan, Karva Chauth, Sita’s treatment in the Ramayana and menstruating women’s barring from mandirs, tell us about the place of women in Brahmin, North Indian Hinduism?
It’s depressing that the opportunity to join hands with countries around the world – specifically Canada, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Britain and Sweden, who screened ‘India’s Daughter’ on International Women’s Day – in a symbolic gesture of solidarity for women’s rights and equality, has been denied by paranoid patriotism.
The message this sends out is that 21st century superpower India wants to be part of the global conversation in terms of economics, trade, IT, nuclear weapons and the space race, but not when it comes to the safety, respect and basic human rights of 586 m of its citizens.
Words: Rahul Verma
[Rahul Verma (www.storywallah.co.uk) is an experienced journalist covering arts & culture, social affairs and South Asia for titles including The Guardian, Vice and Mixmag. He tweets at: @_storywallah]