Thursday, March 5, 2015

India's Daughter: A Review

The documentary India’s daughter looks straight in the eye and then slaps right across the face!

While India’s daughter is banned in India, it aired on BBC 4 on Wednesday evening to UK audiences four days before it was originally scheduled. It's also available on YouTube now. I didn’t know what I was expecting from the documentary that has divided the nation once again. 

Over the past few days there were too many opinions, too many objections on the way the documentary was conducted and the content it teased to air. I have not read a single article or watched a single piece of news item on this and stayed miles away from interviews and panel debates. Of course it’s impossible to stay in a vacuum with news and social media flooded by it. But I wanted the documentary to speak for itself and I sat before my TV set with absolutely no opinion on the issue.

It ran for 60 minutes without a break. Yet at the end of the hour, I was left even more baffled. The documentary is neither a beacon of freedom of expression nor is it a conspiracy to tarnish India’s image in the world. And frankly it’s not worth the fuss.

India’s daughter is a story of the December 2012 Delhi gang rape victim Jyoti Singh who everyone knows better as Nirbhaya – the fearless one. Yet the ones that spoke without any fear, dominating the entire documentary, were firstly the accused Mukesh Singh who was convicted of rape, unnatural sex and murder of Nirbhaya and secondly the defence lawyers who justified it.

‘You can’t clap with one hand, it takes two hands to clap,’ was the very first thing you hear Mukesh say and then he goes on to slander the girl putting the blame of the rape squarely on her. 

Sitting calmly in an empty white room, Mukesh also had the opportunity for a dress change and the other accused were also seen in footage shot on the jail premises highlighting the unprecedented access the documentary makers had in Tihar jail. Mukesh introduced his partners in crime and gave the gory details of the rape in a calm and composed voice. Details that you already knew but hearing them like this would again rip your soul apart.

The documentary also spoke extensively to Jyoti’s parents and a friend cum tutor who spoke the victim’s life and her aspirations in great detail. I must admit, they come off as quite progressive and open minded and your heart would cringe ever so often to hear them speak of the tragedy and their beloved daughter.

There are other voices - police, judiciary, historian and varied experts but there is nothing in this documentary we didn’t know before. Sure it’s the first time the accused has spoken on camera. But do we want to hear him?

Banning the film is wrong. It has just catapulted a mediocre documentary in to unnecessary limelight giving it a sort of martyrdom. But for the proponents of freedom of expression, I ask you, whose freedom of expression are you defending. The makers or the viewers are inconsequential here, its the accused and his camp who have the complete liberty to express their contrived views. 

Did you expect the accused or his dim witted, chauvinistic lawyers to look you in the eye and say they were sorry? No, right. So did you really want to hear them give their worthless opinions on the place of women in society or why the protests and conviction have ensured that the women will be the only ones suffering further? 

‘Earlier they would rape and let their victims go because the victims and families did not say anything for fear of societal pressure but with this sentencing, why will the rapists let victims live to testify against them. They will have to kill them,’ says Mukesh in a matter-of- fact way with perhaps a hint of a smile.

Then you have M.L Sharma, defense lawyer justifying the brutality of sexual assault like it’s as natural for a man as shaving his beard. His animated voice and hand gestures adding the dramatic effect to his highly offensive opinions. I will not quote him because it doesn’t merit to be reproduced. Neither thus A K Singh his buddy on the bench who openly said that if his daughter went out with a guy late evening, he would throw petrol on her and burn her alive!

These men are not representative of India’s male mentality. Of course there are more men who share similar opinion in a patriarchal country as vast and diverse as India and they would find many sympathisers across the world but there are plenty more who think otherwise and they had no voice in this documentary. This is quite typical with foreign filmmaker who look at India through tinted lenses and come with their own stereotypes.

For a paper presented at an academic conference in London in 2013, I had researched rape cases in India over a 40 year period to understand why most rape cases slip through the cracks in the media while a rare few turn into national campaigns. While the focus was on media framing, it required reading through many gruelling details of the rape cases including the attitudes of the accused and society at large. The motivation and mentality of almost every rape is eerily similar.

Rapist are not victims of circumstances. Rapes cannot be justified. There is no other motivation for a rape than pure evil and sadistic pleasure. I don’t understand what Leslee Udwin, who made this documentary, wanted us to see and hear through the interview with the accused. Mukesh spoke the language of every other rapist across the world where they show no remorse, where rape is used by them to assert their power often with the intention to put the victim in ‘her place’.

But by letting the accused and his crony lawyers air their vile views to a global audience, the documentary makers have not tarnished India’s image, as the government claims, but have insulted India’s daughter herself and the millions that stand with her shoulder to shoulder. 

They have let the rapist look at India's daughter straight in the eye and slap her right across the face! 

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