India, your slip is showing

In one go an under-pressure government and a section of the media has shot the messenger

rupali

Rupali Mehra | March 5, 2015


#bbc documentary   #december 16 gangrape   #delhi gangrape case  

It has now become the subject of a parliament debate. The home minister has even ensured a restraining order via the courts and it is clear India will not get to see the documentary on the atrocities against her daughters.

Film-maker Leslee Udwin's work India's Daughter is to be aired across several nations on March 8, the International Women's Day. Except in India. The government has ensured a "wrong" has been set right.

The storm brewed soon after the Telegraph of the UK published an article quoting excerpts from Udwin's film. The selected quotes were of driver Mukesh Singh, one of the six men who repeatedly raped Nirbhaya and left her to die after mutilating her insides with an iron rod.

The convict's quotes mentioned in the article are nauseating, to say the least. In the most disturbing matter-of-fact manner he blames the victim for her fate, alluding that she would have lived had she not fought back. “Then we’d have dropped her off after 'doing her' and only hit the boy,” he tells Udwin.

Within hours, the quotes from the report went viral, shared across social media, picked up by websites and by the next day divided the Indian media right down the middle. Even before any one of us has seen the documentary, opinion is deeply polarised.

As one TV channel interviewed Udwin on her experience documenting the Nirbhaya case and interviewing the rapist, another led a campaign against the filmmaker and her work, calling it “an insult to Nirbhaya”.

And as the fight grew shriller, like most kneejerk reactions, the government went for a quick fix, though shortsighted option – ban India's Daughter.

Never mind that the filmmaker is crying herself hoarse, trying to give her point of view – that it was “the massive outpouring of public anger” that led her to document the Nirbhaya case. Udwin says she chose to interview the rapist “to confront her own demons”. “I knew to get a meaningful answer to my question, why do men rape; why does violent rape happen, I had to go to the source. I needed to understand the mentality, otherwise I would have made a superficial documentary,” she argues.

But few are listening. As things stand, a restraining order has been obtained, a probe has been sought from Tihar jail where the rapist was interviewed and parliament has been assured the government will “ensure the dignity of women”.

In one go an under-pressure government and a section of the media has shot the messenger.

But who is to judge if a documentary on Nirbhaya should be aired or not? Certainly not the media. This right lies with Nirbhaya's family, her parents.

The fact is that Nirbhaya’s father has been interviewed in Udwin's documentary. Her mother, who was part of a panel discussion on the film, says it all when she tells the media that "his (the rapist’s) sick mindset came out with that documentary.”

The beastly rapist Singh’s face, his words, his thoughts have enraged us, made our stomachs churn. But will banning the documentary serve a purpose?

India's Daughter was not about rapist Singh alone. It was to be an insight on the chauvinistic attitude and macabre thoughts several predators harbour within and exercise them when they sense an opportunity. In her documentary she has covered several other spine chilling cases – all begging one question: why do men rape and torture women?

The fact is that every 20 minutes one of India’s daughters is raped in some part of the country. The fact is that rape and murder cases languish in our courts for decades. The fact is that India has one of the worst sex ratios in the world – just 943 females for every 1,000 males. Instead of working towards ensuring a drastic mindset change and a promise that not one more of India’s daughters will be subjected to what Nirbhaya went through, the government has effectively tried to put a lid on the entire debate.

But closing our eyes to the hard truth is not going to change matters on the ground. Nor will it change the attitude of a large section of our society who sees women as inferior beings to be dominated, cussed and abused.

The reality is that on the world stage India’s slip is already showing. India's Daughter will be aired and talked about in other nations. Yes, it is shameful that a case as beastly as Nirbhaya’s took place in our country. Yes, it is shameful that a documentary by a foreigner has made us squirm. Yes, India's Daughter questions our dismal record on women’s rights. But this is a shame India cannot brush under the carpet, pretending it does not exist even as it gnaws away at our system.

Muzzling India's Daughter and threatening legal action is the easiest option. But women have been muzzled for far too long. We have been at the receiving end of being told what is best for us. Let us not be patriarchal this time too. Allow India's Daughter to air her view. Allow women to vent their anger against these beasts. Allow women a debate and let us decide if we want to see the film or not.

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