Mar 6: Much has been said about the ban on Leslee Udwin's documentary 'India's Daughter' on the Nirbhaya gang-rape case of December 16, 2012 in Delhi. The BBC has already aired the documentary before the Indian government could stop it, and the entire one-hour video went viral soon after, and I am glad that if not the TV audience, at least some people out there could watch it, I being one of them.
What the whole controversy screams out is this simple fact - that we have got our priorities all wrong. It is a classic case of shooting the messenger instead of the source. While convict Mukesh lives on and makes bizarre statements, our focus is on how he could be allowed to talk on the camera at all, and not on how he could be allowed to live.
Why is the Indian government and a section of the populace so afraid of the documentary? The Delhi police stated that the documentary should be stopped because the convict makes derogatory remarks that insult the modesty of women. Really?? When women of this country have been tolerating crimes like rape and idiotic comments by all and sundry, what harm can a video do to their dignity? Going by comments on social media, it is quite apprarent that most women want this documentary to be aired. Women of this country are not so weak that they would let a pyschopath's comments harm their dignity. The convict's remarks are something that our ears are already used to. Moreover, let women, and not men, decide what is derogatory to them.
The other argument the Delhi police put forth is that it would lead to law and order problem. It may, and it probably should. When Nirbhaya was battling for life in hospital, thousands and thousands of young people descended on the streets and forced the government to wake up and amend laws. The Delhi police fear that such a situation would arise again, but frankly, if it is going to make any valuable difference and bring justice to Nirbhaya and her parents, law and order problem is a small price to pay for it. Dear Delhi police, when you claim to have worked so efficiently to nail the culprits, why don't you take a little help from the citizens to make sure your efforts are rewarded in the right manner?
Ours has been a patriarchal society, and never in recent times has this fact stood out so prominently than in this case. The rapist's mentality is a shame to our society, a section of which has actually nurtured it. The entire point of the documentary is simply this - our mindset needs to change, and the banning of the documentary has only stressed this point further. From what I have seen of the documentary, it does not attempt to usurp the patriarchal system, but only show where it has gone wrong. The video goes deep into the sociological factors that made the convicts what they are, but in no way justifies their brutality. When Mukesh's distraught mother says she had hoped to depend on her son in her old age, but instead had to see him hang, it made me think of the gross injustice of gender divide - on the one hand there was Nirbhaya, the daughter who had big dreams of becoming a doctor and starting her own hospital, and on the other hand was Mukesh, the shameless son who had given nothing but agony to his parents. Still, they are both born and brought up in a society that considers male the superior being.
However, instead of facing the shortcomings in our society and taking proactive measures to rectify them, we go on a damage-control mode and make every effort to ban the documentary because it makes us feel uncomfortable. Is banning the documentary a solution at all? No, first, because in this era of porous technology, the documentary has already found its way to the mass online users. Secondly, while we claim that we do not need foreign media to show us our faults, that we already know them well enough, why aren't we doing anything concrete (beyond law amendment on rape) to correct the wrong - why is gender inequality still persisting and why are monsters like Mukesh still alive? For all we know, we will stop at banning the video without taking an progressive step, and wake up again only the next time someone comes along to point fingers at our mess.
Of course, the documentary is not going to change things overnight. Let's not pretend that it is a panacea for all our ills. It isn't. But it is a starting point from where we can begin to address issues that need our attention, and start dialogues and debates on how we can go about this mission. If we are not willing to take the first step forward, there's no point hoping for things to change.
Let's consider why the documentary was banned. The government gave a whole list of violations that the filmmaker had committed in the process of making the video. While that may be true, should it invite a ban? The procedures may have been in violation, but did anyone watch the content before banning it? If procedure was all that was to it, why not show the video and take action against those who violated the terms and conditions? It's no rocket science to figure out - we do not want the world to see the dominant Indian male mentality or the underbelly of Indian society, and the best way to ban anything that disturbs us is to simply trap it in a rigmarole of legal procedures.
That's not all. Even a section of the media went on verbal rampage justifying the ban. Arnab Goswami of Times Now made vociferous claims that the documentary 'graphically describes' the brutal rape, and that both the interviewer and the convict derived 'voyeuristic pleasure' out of it. Nothing can be farther from the truth. The so-called graphical details are much less than what was described in the media in the days following the rape, and nothing we did not already know about. When the doctor lists out the wounds, she does it in a matter-of-fact manner without any sensationalising.
There has also been this argument that the documentary and Mukesh's remarks are an insult to Nirbhaya. #InsultoNirbhaya has been trending on Twitter for the past few days. But no, that is not how I see it. It is not an insult to Nirbhaya, far from it, this documentary is a tribute to her. It portrays the image of a young, independent, ambitious girl who wanted to live a decent life and make her parents proud. It is the story of a girl who had big dreams, and was well on her way to achieve them through sheer hard work. And the beasts on that bus had absolutely no right to snatch those dreams away from her.
There there is the xenophobic reaction justifying the ban. Why should the fact that a foreign media filmed a documentary on a problem plaguing our society prick us so much? It is seen by some as part of a 'conspiracy' by the western media to undermine India and show it in a poor light time and again. My point is, why do we need to care about how the western media perceives us? Aren't we capable enough to rely on our strengths and show to the world that while India has its share of problems just as any other country, we are also willing to accept and work on them? Facing our problems rather than living in a state of denial will do us much good. We are forever worried about what other people think about us, whether in everyday life or in this case, the Nirbhaya documentary. And for those who cry 'colonial', it's time to change that mindset. The British of today are barely a speck of what they were in the colonial era, and to paint everything they do with the colonial brush is naive. We need to be more open-minded.
The film portrays a stark reality that we are well aware of, but we want to keep our eyes tightly shut just because a foreigner is trying to open them. Of course, it would have been far better if our own media had done what the BBC did. And of course, brutal crimes happen across the world and surely on Udwin's own homeland too. But such arguments about 'why India' are a mere distraction from the real issue at hand. Udwin herself says in an interview to The Hindustan Times: "No other country has seen protests in such unprecedented numbers. Had this happened in any other country I would have gone there... It was not the incident that motivated me. If this had happened anywhere else and such a groundswell of people had braved such unfriendly conditions to fight for the rights of women I would have gone there. I would have gone wherever that had happened. It was that which compelled... not impelled.... compelled me to come here."
But what's most disgusting in the entire issue is the mindset of the defense lawyers. Advocate M L Sharma says a woman is akin to a 'flower' which, when thrown in the gutter would be spoiled, or 'diamond' which needs to be tightly held. For too long women have been objectified in society and it is from here that such remarks stem. The same lawyer also says men are like thorns - 'tough and strong', but he forgets that the thorn is there to protect the flower from anyone who touches it, and not cause harm to the flower itself. He proudly declares 'ours is the best culture', and in the same breath adds, 'woman has no space in our culture'. The other lawyer is worse - A P Singh being an educated man says he has no qualms about setting his own daughter on fire if she breaks moral boundaries. The threat to society from such lawyers is far greater, for it directly affects the judicial system and makes the process of obtaining justice even more complex, prolonged and discouraging. In fact, rather than raising a hue and cry over Mukesh's remarks, our focus should have been on the statements by his lawyers. Just compare - what is it that we expect from a rape convict, and what do we expect from an educated lawyer - an insane remark versus an informed argument - but no, both, unfortunately display the same crooked mentality.
We need to take serious note of where our priorities lie. We need to address the mindset and sociological factors that mould people like Mukesh and his accomplices. We need to rise above our fears of what the world thinks of us and address our problems earnestly. And most importantly, we need to ensure justice for Nirbhaya.
If Nirbhaya were alive, would she allow the documentary to be telecast? I believe she would, for she was a brave woman who stood up to her persecutors, just as we need to stand up to the problems that persecute us as a society.