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India's Daughter: Dealing With Reality

By Shalu Nigam

06 March, 2015
Countercurrents.org

The documentary `India's Daughter' made by Leslee Udwin about the rape that shook Delhi in December 2012 raised a lot of debate, outrage and furor in Parliament, in media and in general. The police filed a FIR and the broadcast of this documentary is banned in India. Statements were issued by groups in favour [1] and against [2] such ban. However, what is being overlooked amidst this debate is the reality of women's lives in India. A woman in India faces this patriarchal misogynist attitude every day at home and at public spaces, through her entire life in different ways. The documentary pointed to this regressive attitude and subjugating culture that needs to be addressed. Prohibiting the documentary is futile as shying away from such questions that pertains to reality of women's live or living in denial that misogyny exists or closing eyes to realities is hardly helpful to bring about social transformation. The need is to strike at the roots and confront the sexist and patriarchal violent culture in a mature manner.

What does the documentary depicts?

The film uncovers the ugly reality of rape that shook the country in December 2012. The maker of the documentary interviewed the rapists, the defense lawyers, the parents of deceased woman Nirbhaya who was raped brutally, her tutor, the doctor who were involved in providing treatment to the woman, the psychiatrist, the gynecologist, the families of the rapists, the police, bystanders, Mrs Shiela Dixit, the members of Justice Verma Committee formulated immediately after the incident took place and also explanations given by a Professor from Oxford besides showing the anger of the protestors and the police response to such protest held after the rape. 

The film sketches the childhood of Nirbhaya, her dreams, her aspirations, her happiness, her brutal, heinous rape, her death and what happened after that. It also outlines the life of the rapists the poverty situation they live in, their inhuman conditions and their lifestyle besides their horrific mental state.  There are progressive ideas expressed by her parents and Verma Committees' Members and there are repressive voices of the rapist and of the defense lawyers. Though it does not talk about the other many rape cases, nuances of issues relating to rape in India, evolution and implementation of the rape law, efforts made by the women's movement in India in seeking amendments within the law or highlighting the cause of sexual assault or statistics pertaining to rape cases yet the documentary depicted the reality of the rape, power, control, male domination, violence and what happened after that without sensationalizing it or glorifying the rapist. Rather it exposed the chauvinistic mindset the attitude of rapists and the misogynist approach of defense lawyers. The film depicts `what does it means to be a woman' in a patriarchal society [3] . It clearly shows that rape is not an aberration rather it is a malaise that is deeply entrenched. More than reflecting on the Western views of Indian situation, the issues raised in the film compel the citizens of the country to think and consider if what is happening is really right or not and how this can be prevented.

What does the Documentary Convey?

The documentary conveys the significant message that the rape culture exists in the country; that in spite of rhetoric of equality and justice women are treated as chattels in the society.  This is depicted by the statement made by the defense lawyer as well as the rapist interviewed in the 59 minutes film. The articulation by the accused or the defense lawyers is something that has been on and off repeated by men and even some women in various ways at different levels and at diverse forums. The movie reflects on the sexist attitude that prevails in the Indian society that blames women for any violence; it attempts to point out at the collective psyche and approach towards violence against women. It also pointed out the hope to bring about change as expressed by Nirbhaya's parents. 

The documentary reveals the mind of rapists as well as the mind of `educated' men in the country. Though it does not show the announcements made by the religious or political leaders about their attitude relating to rape, it provides an insight into the psyche of the culprits as to why they think they have the right to rape a woman. It pointed out the reasons as to why rapists are not remorseful even if they know they are jailed and penalized for doing wrong. The documentary shed light on the rape crisis existing in the country. Such kind of documentaries may be used as a material to explain men and women relationship in the country as it demonstrates the manner in which the sexist mindset operates. It does not defame the country rather it highlights the fact that much more needs to be done to fulfill the goals of constitutional equality and justice. The film unmasks the illusions and tears apart the fabric of morality that has been used for ages to cover the core of violence against women. The message is clear and loud forbid the mindset that promotes rape culture.

Does the content of documentary obstruct justice or prevent law?

Rape or discussions around it relating to prevalent patriarchal culture is not something new that has been highlighted for the first time in this country. Furious debates have taken place earlier after the Mathura's rape case in 80s, Bhanwari Devi's rape case, Rameeza Bi's case, Manorama's case, Aruna Shaunbaug's case, Soni Suri, and many other cases. In Mathura's rape case the open letter issued by the four eminent people which later resulted in the amendments in the rape law in 1983. In Bhanwari Devi's rape case the PIL was filed by the organization Vishakha when the criminal trial of Bhanwari Devi was pending before the lower courts. Similarly, in the aftermath of Nirbhaya case, Justice Verma Committee was constituted and on the recommendations made by the Committee the amendments were made to the criminal law dealing with rape. When this Justice Verma Committee was constituted, the matter of Nirbhaya rape was pending, when the protests took place after the incident, the Nirbhaya's matter was subjudiced and nothing has made a dent on the legal process. Currently, the matter relating to the appeal against the death penalty to the rapists in Nirbhaya's case is pending before the Supreme Court of India. However, it may be pointed out that the judiciary is mature enough to handle the case without biases and prejudices as it has been done earlier in this case and in other matters too.

Besides, women are being raped everyday in every nook and corner of India. Some of these cases came to limelight and there are many others which could not receive attention or are never reported. Also, there are high profile cases or otherwise cases which are tried by the court where evidences have been misplaced, two fingers test is used to monitor the virginity of women, police fails its duties in registering the cases or conducting investigations, witnesses have been threatened and trials have been hijacked and even courts have expressed their anguish over such cases as justice has been obstructed due to various reasons. The need therefore is to revamp the criminal justice system.

Further, the analysis of the documentary also indicates that struggle to justice is long. Penalizing the rapists in the Nirbhaya's case will not end the issue of sexual violence; the need is to look beyond a particular case into the perverted mindset and an ugly deeply entrenched thought process that legitimize such barbaric behavior towards women. It points out the gravity of the situation and indicates that banning a documentary will not end rape.

What is Outrageous and Should be Debated and Banned?

The attitude that `women are like flowers and men are like thrones' or `women are like diamonds, or food' is outrageous and needs to be debated;

the statement that `she should not have fought back' is despicable and should be disallowed;

the declaration that` our culture is best but there is no place for women' is disgraceful that needs to be questioned;

the position that women should do household work only is problematic and should be changed;

the chauvinistic depiction of masculinity is appalling which should be banned,

 the attitude that `the girl asks for it or deserves it' needs to be altered,

the regressive attitudes pertaining to morality, decency and character of women as daughters, wives or mothers need to be challenged,

the notion that women are the bearer of honour needs to be discussed;

the concept that women is to be blamed for all that happens with her needs to be stopped;

the approach that blame the women and hold them responsible needs to be debated;

the idea of `teaching her a lesson' needs to questioned and should be prevented;

shoving the larger socio-political issue behind the curtains of safety and protection of women needs to outlawed;

 the culture of impunity is harmful which should be forbidden;

the impression that `others are doing it so why can't we' needs to be prohibited;

the norms that legitimize men's right over women need to be raised and banned;

the mores that women should confirm to the diktats pronounced by men need to be looked into;

the misogynist statements given by several leaders, religious as well as political, and played on media repeatedly need to be stopped;

the culture that treats women as commodity in the guise of being treated as goddesses needs to be changed;

the society where women have no rights need to be modified and checked;

the need is to revamp the criminal justice system which fails to register many cases or could not provide speedy and fair justice in those cases which are reported;

the approach of banning the freedom of expression in itself is dreadful that needs to be transformed;

and above all rape itself should be banned; stop the rapists from raping anyone.

What can be done further?

Instead of banning the film and covering the issue of rape with the layers of legality or morality or wrapping it with the sugary coat of tolerance is not going to help. The acceptance of the fact that rape happens and needs to be stopped may facilitate the process of justice. The need is to address the structural causes of increasing violence against women. The need is to accept the reality instead of shying away from it or living in denial. Pushing the conversation about rape and related mindset under the carpet is not going to bring any change. Open discussions and healthy debates are required. There is a need to change the culture which blames women for violence women's dress, her mobility, her action, a mindset that held women responsible to `protect' herself.  Symptomatic solutions which `protect' women like women's safety apps, restricting women's mobility, CCTV cameras, self defence classes for women, pepper spray are not going to help. Essential is to educate men and women against patriarchal culture and shame the chauvinistic exhibition of manliness and masculinity. The need is to involve men, shaming the culprits, understanding the patriarchal attitude and addressing the misogynistic culture in everyday life. Banning the documentary is no solution; the answer is to ban the rape culture which requires political will and commitment. Such kind of informative, educative media is a tool to understand the attitude of violence; it is an instrument to patriarchal and sexist approach and a mechanism to discuss debate and brainstorm the culture of violence against women.

The views expressed by the author are her personal views as a woman, as a researcher, as an advocate and an activist. She may be contacted at shalu_nigam@rediffmail.com



[1] Letter to NDTV on the Telecast of the Documentary India's daughter dated March 5, 2015 http://www.countercurrents.org/cc050315.htm

[2] Raja Annie (2015) Struggling Women http://strugglingladyy.blogspot.in/2015/03/national-federation-of-indianwomen-nfiw.html?spref=fb and AIDWA's Press Statement released on March 5, 2015opposing blanket ban against  the documentary India's Daughter made by BBC available at https://www.facebook.com/AIDWA

[3] Mehta Avantika (2015) Dec 16 documentary depicts mindset of rapists, shows rape more than a personal problem: Udwin, dated March 5, The Hindustan Times http://www.hindustantimes.com/newdelhi/dec-16-documentary-depicts-mindset-of-rapists-udwin/article1-1323224.aspx






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