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Akshay Thakur (top), one of the four men sentenced to death for rape and murder of a young woman on a bus last December. REUTERS/Stringer.
Akshay Thakur (top), one of the four men sentenced to death for rape and murder of a young woman on a bus last December. REUTERS/Stringer.

India once again has failed its women. There are more than 600 million of them. In 2012, the horrific, deadly gang rape of a young woman in New Delhi was a national trauma in India; it made global headlines for its brutality and fueled an awakening in the country over the violence against women. Four men were sentenced to death for the crime that killed a young call center worker, who was riding the bus home after seeing a movie with a friend. Laws protecting women were strengthened. Rape crisis centers were opened. The country committed to doing better.

Some progress has been made, but not enough. The Indian government made that clear this week when it banned the airing of a documentary — “India’s Daughter” — chronicling the 2012 assault. A minister in the Indian government declared the film “an international conspiracy to defame India.” The Indian government has also taken steps to try to make sure the documentary doesn’t air anywhere in the world. The BBC had originally planned to broadcast the film on Sunday, International Women’s Day, but moved the release date up and aired it Wednesday night. The BBC has been served a legal notice by Indian authorities for the broadcast, who have also petitioned Youtube to block its distribution online.

“India’s Daughter” is a painful reminder of a horrible crime. But it’s one that plays out in India repeatedly. Just this week, angry and frustrated, a mob of several thousand broke into a high-security prison in northeast India, dragged a rape suspect out of the jail and carried him naked through the streets before beating him to death. The most powerful aftershock in the documentary is the interview filmmaker Leslee Udwin conducts, in prison, with one of the men on death row for the crime. Mukesh Singh said: If the victim had not fought back, the rapists would not have brutalized her; the victim shouldn’t have been out at night; and imposing the death penalty for the rapists would mean that other perpetrators would now opt to kill their victims. “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy,” Singh said.

Singh’s unrepentant comments are outrageous to be sure. But instead of treating them as an opportunity for national reflection, the Indian government launched a technical, small-minded attack on the film. Certain sections of the Indian media ridiculously interpreted the film as propagation and glorification of the rapist’s views. High-ranking government officials questioned how Udwin got permission to interview a deathrow inmate, and whether it was legal in the country to do so. They also alleged Udwin failed to submit the full, uncut footage of the interview to jail authorities for approval as was agreed to. Another technicality is the interview was supposed to be “for social purpose and not for commercial use.” The Indian government, which is almost 90 percent men, is outraged at how it’s being treated. The family of the victim has supported the making of the film from the start.

There are other arguments for not screening the film. Prominent women’s rights activist Kavita Krishnan has questioned the wisdom behind broadcasting a film while an appeal filed by the convicts against their death penalty is still pending in the Supreme Court. In an opinion piece, she wrote, “I don’t want a media trial to overwhelm the judicial process.”

The Indian government’s responses, however, show a government caught up in the minutiae; still far more concerned with deflecting blame, than taking responsibility. The debate has now shifted to procedural technicalities of prison access and press accreditation, which are easier to grab hold of and to prove, than the underlying causes and remedies for the treatment of women in India.

Maybe the government’s anger really stems from the fact that this film was made by a Western filmmaker, primarily for Western audiences. Krishan writes in another essay: “It does not help for people in other countries to imagine that such brutality is India’s ‘cultural’ problem; that India’s ‘backwardness’ is the problem; or that gender violence is ‘worse out there in India.’”

But is that the real issue, how the West sees India? The obstacles facing a rape victim in India — if she survives at all — are a real issue: unsympathetic police officers, court cases that drag on for years, social ostracism.

Like the protests erupting after the rape, this film, too, could have led to public discourse around these issues that are important everywhere, but nowhere more so than in India. The response to the banning of the film may force that to happen with or without the government’s consent. ”In our culture, there is no place for a woman,” M. L. Sharma, the convicts’ defense lawyer, said at one point in the film. Ironically, the government’s exuberant attempts to shut the movie down narrows the space in which women’s issues can be examined, and by doing so, unfortunately, proves him right.

Ananya Bhattacharyya is a Reuters columnist.

7 Responses to “India’s Daughter: Film so shocking, it must be banned?”

  1. raakhi

    The protests to the showing of the documentary is telling further about the disease in the Indian society. This is predominantly male views that are sickly but they dod not exist without the support of the female populace of grandmothers, mothers and some uninformed young women as well.
    The very fact that Indians are taking offense to the illness in their society coming out to the world (as if its a secret in this globalized times), indicates that people feel guilty and they don’t want to work on this. Instead like the author of the article pointed out they just want to close the box and continue the abusive world of indian society. Where are the women, children and underprivilidged. Rise up and speak up against this stupid ban. What is needed is discussion and light being shed so that the society can make changes to keep every one safe not just let criminals get away with their crime.

  2. Dr A Rahman

    India is showing the classic symptom of an under-developed country when a minister said, “an international conspiracy to defame India”, when unpalatable facts are exposed. Even more shocking is the mentality of one of the rapists who said, “If the victim had not fought back, the rapists would not have brutalized her”. If that is the mind-set of the rapists – in the present case and innumerable other cases – India has a serious problem and the country must address this shameful episode urgently.
    It is no good trying to hide shameful facts. Because by doing so, the government will only keep the root causes hidden, but the heinous acts will remain extant throughout. A democratic country with free press must not tolerate that.

  3. Raihan Quadir

    Now, now don’t get carried away in covering sexual assaults that had happened in India. It is India’s problem and let them solve their problems. After the way India cheated the match yesterday while defeated BD team heads home with face down how can bdnews24.com reprint Reuters article? This is old news! Why not write something about what really happened during the game in a column rather than printing bits and pieces of news report? Don’t you have staff writers who can do that job? It is quite apparent that bdnews24 is pro AL – though a news agency should stay neutral and report the truth. Why hasn’t there been a single column written wanting to know or rather demanding answers about the missing BNP leader? Why is no one taking responsibility for his whereabouts? I am talking from the humanitarian angle here. Have you guys looked at the worried faces of the missing person’s two teenaged kids? Where is our collective sense of empathy? Just because a Brit shot the documentary about the Delhi rape – that is why you guys thought reprinting this article can educate people? About what? Its old news, I saw many face book postings on this documentary weeks ago. What the sick minded pervert had said is not something news worthy, is it? If he was a human with conscience then would he have raped someone? Let the Indian Rapists be Narendra Modi’s problem, instead of yours. He can go and castrate them if he wants. I am tired of seeing the colonial mentality so many years after the Brits left India. Still we would like to be White wannabees. BTW I feel in Bangladesh wearing suit should be banned. Punjabi/Punjabi should be the outfit men should wear. Bengali guys look ridiculous wearing cheap polyester suits anyway. They don’t know how to knot a tie and it’s always crooked.

  4. Ananth Srivastav

    The unpalatable part is that the views of the rapist and grisly murderers get an international podium and then these views are extended by default to an entire populace and nation or at least the male part of it. If this is not falsehood and racial/cultural superiority then what is?
    Let us see documentaries of Anders Behring Breivik, the Nazi Norwegian mass murderer of children, of Timothy McVeigh the bomber of Oklahoma city, of Ariel Castro the Cleveland man who held hostage women for a decade where their views are espoused and then rationalized by their defenders and then those views latched to the majority of European, white American and Latino males.

    • Pulak Sen

      Clearly someone from the South block, or paid by it, is writing this to deflect attention from the indefensible. Let’s remember Nirbhaya’s pain, and all these shenanigans will make little sense. You must face it, and correct it, India!! ‘Sanatan’ is not working any longer.

  5. Ananth Srivastav

    How many times do you see on prime time TV on BBC, DW TV, CNN, ABC or NBC sexual violence reports from remote towns in Alaska or Alabama and then these being picked up by international news agencies such as AP or Reuters and reported across the world?
    Just tune into any TV channel from India several are live online to see how much importance is given to this. No one is hiding the crimes; the very fact that you are reading reports from the remotest parts of India is testament to this. Do you honestly think that absence of reporting equals absence of crime? And then are these rapists and their advocates given exclusive interviews where they parade and glory in their perverted thoughts?

    • Sumit Mazumdar

      You preach a false sense of nationalism. If you want a better India (South Asia) tomorrow, it should not matter what is the nationility of the person who is pointing out your shortcomings. Also, the lesson that we can carry from the documentary is not based on what one criminal says, but that many among our political leaders and the mainstream believe the same, viz., it was the victim’s fault that she was raped and murdered. It is irrelevant in the long run what a criminal like Mukesh Singh says, – what is however extremely relevant is what we as a society think about women’s equality. In fact the documentary does noteven touc upon the greatest inhumanity towards females in India, – female foeticide. Until we know what is wrong with us, we will not correct ourselves. Nationalism was a virtue in the 20th century, it is a disgrace now.

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