We all remember a few momentous world events in our lives. Where were you when India lifted the 2011 World Cup? Where were you when 26/11 happened? Where were you when the darkness of the night of December 16th, 2012, set in?
The last one made us jog our memory almost instantly as the point from which ‘Nirbhaya’ became a name that everyone came to associate with the brutal incident, as it splashed through the headlines of various national sources and seeped into our public consciousness, making us reach for answers we weren’t ready to face. What were you doing in your small, selfish bubble of existence when a horrific abomination of crime was being perpetrated in Delhi? The conversations which we were compelled to have after the incident were more open and radical than ever before; multiple issues such as the treatment of rape survivors, the medical help and tests required and the patriarchal staple of victim-blaming came to the fore and were put under severe scrutiny at long last.
But it seems the time for such open conversations has ended, with a documentary called India’s Daughter being banned in the country.
Leslee Udwin is a BAFTA Award-winning producer behind the Om Puri starring British Film ‘East Is East’. She witnessed the eruption of protests by men and women alike after the brutal rape in Delhi. Calling it the ‘Arab spring for Gender Equality’, Leslee was moved to make a documentary about the incident and the aftermath that followed in its wake. Over the course of two years, she interviewed the parents of Nirbhaya, women rights’ activists and lawyers, psychiatrists. the defence lawyers of the accused as well as the accused themselves. The documentary is a part of a global campaign titled ‘India’s Daughter,’ under which the documentary will be broadcast in seven countries on International Woman’s Day on the 8th of March, followed by a screening in New York the next day, with actresses Freida Pinto and Meryl Streep gracing the occasion to mark the launch of the campaign against gender inequality and sexual violence against women and girls. The Indian telecast of the documentary on NDTV 24x7 on March 8th, however, has been banned after a court order was passed prohibiting the interview with the accused from being telecast.
The interview with one of the accused, Mukesh Singh, has sparked a controversy after he made outrageous statements blaming the victim. (The court order restricts anyone from reproducing the statements made by Singh in the interview.) Home Minister Rajnath Singh has said that the documentary violated the conditions of permission by not showing the unedited raw footage to the jail authorities, while the Delhi Police filed an FIR and sought the court intervention alleging that if the documentary is allowed to be broadcast, it would fuel public anger through ‘fear and tension’. Udwin has defended the documentary stating that the necessary permissions had been taken, and that the jail authorities had indeed been shown the raw footage but asked for a shorter version of the film after just viewing 3 hours of the 26 hours of footage.
The knee-jerk reaction of pulling up a film based on the marketing and promotional clips and articles alone is, today, expected out of this government. This proclivity to censor that the government has been exhibiting has been something Homegrown has covered extensively in the past. What is truly alarming is the voice of opposition coming from television channels such as Times Now which screened a debate on whether the documentary should be screened at the same time that Udwin was talking on NDTV about the experience of making the documentary alongwith various panellists including Nirbhaya’s parents. Times Now used #NirbhayaInsulted to question whether the deceased victim was being further humiliated through the documentary, in atypical fashion of debate which was loud on noise and sensationalism. Leslee has expressed deep regret over the conduct of the Times Group.
The other critics of the documentary include activists such as Kavita Krishnan who has questioned why so much attention was devoted only to foreign filmmakers and activists, putting it down to an alleged White Saviour complex. Interestingly, Krishnan herself is a part of the documentary as she talks about the protests in light of the December 16th Rape. The fear of a ‘White Saviour’ complex might be legitimate but in dearth of an Indian voice which would explore the issue with the same treatment, the documentary cannot be ignored. After all, Aamir Khan and Satyameva Jayate cannot be our only harbingers of social change.
Many are concerned that the views of the rapists should not be aired at all, as they would harm the Indian Women’s rights movement and that his justification might resonate with many in the public. Therein lies the crux of our logic in censorship and banning - a deep-seated fear of the truth.
The fear most politicians and those opposing the documentary have stems from the possibility that the views of the accused might expose the bitter truth about India’s patriarchal views on women. “What can be said of me and my upbringing if I find myself in agreement with a rapist?” is the chief fear guiding the opposition of men and some women in India. While the whole country was busy being outraged by the remarks of the rapists, it’s the views of his defence lawyer which are the real cause of concern. ML Sharma, who represented Mukesh Singh till April, states “Ours is the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.” Washington Post’s Rama Lakshmi who has seen the documentary , is questioning why such outrage is reserved for a rapist but not for the statements made by politicians and religious leaders, a fair point considering the plethora of anti-women statements our venerable leaders have spewed in the past few years.
Few opposing the broadcast of the documentary have rightly pointed out that maybe Indians lack the maturity to understand the message. The fears of the government, activists and others would’ve been justified had they seen the entire movie first, and not just judged it based on excerpts and promotional articles. Sadly, India once again reacted without a thorough debate or discussion. The promotional campaign may be deplorable and it may even be a manipulative film which might show Indian men in a poor light. But the solution to this lies in opposing the documentary based on its content, not in depriving it a platform to articulate its voice.
Udwin has in fact gone on to state this, “The more they try to stop the film, the more they are going to pique people’s interest. Now, everyone is going to want to see it.”
A documentary which was meant to ignite silent internal reflection has now been turned into a political and media gimmick. This is the real insult to Nirbhaya.