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India: What’s This Din Over Leslee Udwin’s Film on Rape in India ? - selected commentary & a statement

5 March 2015

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[updated on 6 March 2015 - selected articles from the media and a statement by the Editors Guild of India are posted below:

1. India’s Daughter review – this film does what the politicians should be doing (Sonia Faleiro)
2. India’s Daughter must be telecast: it forces us to admit that anti-women attitudes are ubiquitous (Anna MM Vetticad)
3. The villainy needs to be told (Sanjay Hegde)
4. Full text of statement by the Editors Guild of India
5. AIDWA Statement opposes the blanket ban on the documentary titled "India’s Daughter"
6. Other relevant materials



The Guardian - 5 March 2015

India’s Daughter review – this film does what the politicians should be doing

This documentary, which focuses on the assault of Jyoti Singh on a bus in Delhi in 2012, may not contain much that will surprise Indians, but its determination to shed light on the country’s rape crisis should inspire change

by Sonia Faleiro

India’s Daughter is director Leslee Udwin’s stirring documentation of a crime that triggered what she has described as “an Arab Spring for gender equality” in India.

The December 2012 Delhi bus gang rape resulted in the death of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh at the hands of six men. The men threw Singh and her male friend out of the bus before gleefully divvying up the pair’s belongings. One rapist got a pair of shoes, another scored a jacket. There was, however, an item that Singh had left behind which the men didn’t want. So they wrapped the innards they had wrenched out of her in their frenzy of violence in a piece of cloth, and pitched it through the window. “They had no fear,” Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus and one of four men to be convicted for Jyoti’s rape and murder, tells Udwin.

India’s Daughter: ‘I made a film on rape in India. Men’s brutal attitudes truly shocked me’

The interview with Mukesh Singh, whose death sentence is currently in appeal, is a coup for Udwin, who is the first journalist ever allowed to talk to him, or any of the men. She will likely be the last. Yesterday the authorities banned the film in India after claiming that Udwin had failed to get the requisite permissions. Shortly afterwards the parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu described the film as “an international conspiracy”.

Naidu’s allegation is bewildering, given that the film reveals little that is new either about the crime, or the mindset of the man convicted of it.

Journalists have reported on the rape in detail. And surely it comes as no surprise that someone who participated in a gang-rape and is now on death row will place blame just about anywhere it might stick in the hope of a reprieve – the grinding poverty that he was born into, the overbearing nature of his older brother, who is believed to have masterminded the assault, even his victim.

A whining Singh comes off as genuinely unconvinced that he should be in jail. “She should just be silent and allow the rape,” says Singh, implying that if Jyoti had only done the right thing and let the men take from her what was theirs – her body – she would still be alive today.
Delhi rape documentary-maker appeals to Narendra Modi over broadcast ban

In fact audiences, in India at least, are unlikely to flinch at anything Udwin has to show them. If she thinks that she is holding up a mirror, she should know that Indians have been looking into it for some time now and are as eager for reform as those outside India demanding it on their behalf.

Even the statements of the two lawyers for the men, in which they describe women in terms as disparate as diamonds, food, and flowers – objects all, of course – before finally admitting that “in our culture there is no place for women” will sound familiar.

But it is the dismaying familiarity of the views expressed by Singh and his lawyers – which are now mainstream in India, echoed by everyone from politicians to high school students – that makes this essential viewing. Some will argue that the unapologetic misogyny revealed in these interviews is a skewed representation of the Indian male mindset. But it is, in fact, widespread.

Singh’s interview also confirms that Indian jails restrain; they do not rehabilitate. It is obvious, given the views he expresses to Udwin, that were he to be released today he would walk the streets of Delhi still convinced of the lopsided inevitability of relationships between men and women: what men want, women must promptly give, even at the pain of death.

Udwin has opted for a tight focus, but some viewers may wish that she had embraced a broader view of the rape crisis in India. The country’s history of anti-rape agitation, for example.
Indian women found their voice after the Delhi rape. Could this film help silence them again?
Nilanjana S Roy

The protests that followed the death of Jyoti Singh may have been the largest against rape, but they were certainly not the first. Earlier high-profile crimes such as the 1972 Mathura custodial rape case also led to legal reform, and laid the groundwork for the development of the protest constituency that filled Delhi’s political corridor from Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate that December, in what ultimately turned into a war zone of tear gas, lathi strikes, and police violence.

But Udwin, like any good field reporter, doggedly pursues this one case from start to present, unable to tear herself away even for a minute. Her intimate focus allows for a more affecting narrative.

Jyoti Singh’s parents emerge as superheroes, radiating courage and strength. Her father Badri Singh, then an airport loader, comes across as exactly the sort of modern, forward-thinking, male feminist that India would be so lucky to have many millions more of. And her mother, Asha, who says of Jyoti’s birth “we celebrated like she was a boy”, was surely the propeller that allowed her daughter’s soaring ambitions to take flight.

Udwin skilfully contrasts the light in Singh’s young life with the darkness that engulfed the lives of her rapists.

The Singhs were poor, but they cared for their children fiercely. Jyoti, their only daughter, grew up well-adjusted and focused, but also deeply empathetic. One of her friends recalls that after the police picked up a street urchin for snatching her purse, Singh, rather than berating the boy, took him aside and asked him what made him do it. Because I want what you have, he said – shoes, jeans, a hamburger. Singh, recalled her friend, promptly took the boy shopping and bought him everything on his wish list. Her only stipulation was that he not steal again.

The word “happy” repeatedly comes up in reference to Jyoti. She was happy, said Asha Singh. She had only six months of her internship left, recalled Badri Singh. “Happiness was a few steps ahead.”

In contrast, the six men who would take Singh’s life appear never to have encountered happiness. The juvenile left his home in a village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh when he was just 11 years old and didn’t return. His mother thought him dead. The others were familiar with poverty and violence. In turn, they were violent towards others. “There is nothing good about him,” Singh says of one his co-conspirators. Of another he admits: “He was capable of anything.”

A psychiatrist in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where Singh is lodged, tells Udwin that he knows of rapists who have committed as many as 200 rapes before they are ever caught. Two hundred rapes that they remember, that is.

Given Singh’s own statements it isn’t a stretch to say that had the men got away with raping and killing Jyoti, they would have raped and killed again. Or, that neither Singh’s mindset nor even the manner of the rape, during which an iron rod was inserted into Jyoti, was, as the court declared in its judgment, truly “the rarest of the rare”. As recently as February this year, a woman was gang-raped by nine men in Rohtak, Haryana for over three hours. The men violated her with bricks and asbestos sheets. Sticks, stones and condoms were found stuffed in her private parts.

India’s Daughter doesn’t malign India, but Naidu’s statement about a “conspiracy” does demonstrate, with an acute lack of self-awareness, what lies at the heart of the nation’s rape crisis.

Naidu isn’t implying that rape is shameful; but that talking about rape is shameful because it draws attention to the fact that it happens at all. This fear is exactly what prevents rape victims from filing police complaints, and, as a result, emboldens rapists to strike again and again. In fact, Udwin has done what India’s politicians should rightfully be doing: investigating rape cases thoroughly and discussing them openly.

While eloquently expressing his love for his daughter, Badri Singh tells Udwin: “I wish that whatever darkness there is in the world should be dispelled by this light.”

The Indian government has thwarted his wishes. By banning this documentary it has deprived the Singhs of the opportunity to share the story of their daughter widely within India. In attempting to push a conversation about rape back into the closet, it has stigmatised the subject further. It has done more damage to India’s reputation, and, far worse, the fight against rape, than any film ever could.

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2.) - 4 March 2015

India’s Daughter must be telecast: it forces us to admit that anti-women attitudes are ubiquitous
This is a balanced documentary that has traversed tricky territory with sensitivity.

by Anna MM Vetticad

As the din rises over British filmmaker Leslee Udwin’s documentary on the December 2012 Delhi gang-rape, this much needs to be pointed out: most critics of India’s Daughter have not seen it.

The film was scheduled to be premiered simultaneously in seven countries (including on BBC and India’s NDTV 24x7) on March 8, which is celebrated as International Women’s Day. The release in India, at least, has been stopped by the courts for now.

In the run-up to the scheduled telecast, Udwin and her Indian co-producer, prominent journalist Dibang, held a preview of the film in Delhi on Tuesday evening. This is not an article on the investigation into whether the required legal permissions had been obtained and adhered to. This is an article about the content of a film that you may not get to see.

The hour-long documentary deals with the fatal gang-rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy intern in Delhi by six men on a moving bus on the night of December 16, 2012, and the subsequent protests across India that drew international attention. Through the voices of the many people involved in various ways in this real-life tragedy – the young lady’s parents, her tutor, lawyers, activists and one of the convicted rapists – Udwin seeks to highlight the social mindsets that lead to rape and unabashed victim blaming.

Interview with rapist

Nothing makes this point more acutely than one unrepentant convicted rapist on death row criticising the dead woman. The element that distinguishes India’s Daughter from the unrelenting media coverage this case has received is a lengthy interview it features with one of the rapists, Mukesh Singh, lodged in Delhi’s high-security Tihar Jail.

For those who have followed the case closely, Singh’s claims of innocence will not be news. The revelation lies in the manner in which he supplements his denial of guilt with a stinging indictment of the victim’s character and behaviour, claiming that she brought the attack upon herself.

Singh’s most chilling comment, though, is the one that throws light on how well-informed he is about the ongoing debate in India on capital punishment, especially for rapists. In words that seem borrowed from activists quoted in the media, Singh says that while rapists would earlier have let their victims off alive on the assumption that a woman would be too ashamed to report the matter to the police, the situation has changed. Rapists are now more likely to murder their victims, he claims.

The purpose of India’s Daughter would be served if Singh’s interview compels us to examine our collective conscience for two reasons: first, to understand where our society has gone so wrong that a man such as this one emerged from our midst; and second, for the everydayness of Singh’s views.

Shockingly commonplace views

The truth is that his beliefs about rape victims mirror the beliefs expressed by numerous ordinary men and women across India – and in varying degrees in the rest of the world; of politicians and other prominent figures (from spiritual guru Asaram Bapu, to Haryana chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar) who have derided rape victims in various ways.

Two lawyers who appeared for the defence in this case also make extremely regressive remarks in the documentary.

Lawyer AP Singh confirms to the filmmaker that he stands by this statement made in an earlier interview: “If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.”

Defence lawyer ML Sharma contributes this: “You are talking about man and woman as friends. Sorry, that doesn’t have any place in our society. We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.”

It is these social prejudices that Indians were protesting at India Gate and other parts of the country in the winter of 2012-’13, and this is what we continue to protest.

Some members of the public are burning with indignation at this blatant victim-blaming, many asking why Singh in particular was given a platform to air such opinions.

Tone of concern

These protestors would be well advised to watch the documentary in its entirety. Nowhere in the film has Udwin glorified these misogynists. In fact, the tone of her film is one of concern about the rampant trivialisation of women in society, its causes and possible solutions.

It is also worth pointing out that while the documentary is on the side of women victims of rape, space has also been given to those who want credible solutions rather than mob justice.

Former policeman and now social activist Amod Kanth, for instance, discusses the circumstances that breed juvenile criminals. He speaks in the context of the under-18-year-old in the December 2012 case.

Another voice of sanity comes from Justice (retired) Leila Seth who was on the three-member Justice Verma Committee constituted after the gangrape to recommend amendments to Indian laws relating to sexual violence against women. Seth speaks in the documentary about the need for education to improve attitudes towards women.

Udwin has also been careful not to indulge in the condescending finger-pointing towards India that has marked a considerable part of the Western media’s coverage of India’s anti-rape protests. She ends India’s Daughter with worldwide statistics highlighting violence against women, from Australia to the US.

In all these respects then, this is a balanced documentary that has traversed tricky territory with sensitivity. India’s Daughter comes across for the most part as an offer of solidarity, not a sermon to India, and a tribute to those who took to the streets to protest against the December 2012 Delhi gang-rape.

However, there are a couple of jarring notes that merit mention.

First is the film’s title. For a person whose good intentions shine through both her documentary and her media interactions, it is surprising that Udwin chose a title that in effect furthers mindsets that seek to restrict “our mothers, sisters and daughters” in the guise of offering protection from violence; that view women only in terms of their relationships with men and not as individuals.

The really troublesome aspect of India’s Daughter, though, is the inclusion of Oxford historian Maria Misra as an India expert. Misra is so obviously an outsider viewing India’s anti-rape movement from a distance, she sticks out as an oddity. Nothing emphasises this more than the stray factual errors in her quotes (for instance, she describes the Verma Committee members as all being former judges, which is not the case). Would a documentary on First World events be allowed to get away with a lackadaisical attitude towards even the smallest of facts?

Moving storytelling

These criticisms notwithstanding, India’s Daughter still needs to be seen in India. Though much of what is said in the film is familiar ground for us, the power of Udwin’s storytelling lies in the fact that she still manages to move those of us who know this case in minute detail.

Rapist Mukesh Singh’s matter-of-fact drone is like a bucket of ice-cold water being thrown on our heads on a winter’s day. This is a film worth seeing for the revulsion he invites as he describes what was done to a hapless woman and her male companion on that December night; for the unashamed hatred towards women displayed by those defence lawyers; for the sobriety of those activists who have been fighting unrelentingly for women’s rights for years and refuse to be sidetracked by populist demands; and for the constant reminder of the bravery of those citizens who took to the streets to say “enough is enough” – “and showed the world the way”, as Udwin puts it.

Journalism makes cynics of many of us. Yet it is hard not to be touched once again by the liberalism of that father and mother who did not allow their own strained circumstances to become an excuse to hold their daughter back. When they speak of their girl with pride even now, when they relive her tragedy for our sakes, when the mother slams those who blame women for rape, when the father reminds us that his murdered daughter’s name means “light … a light that I wish will dispel whatever darkness there is in this world”, it is hard not to be reduced to tears. I confess I was.

The writer is on Twitter as @annavetticad.

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The Hindu - March 5, 2015

The villainy needs to be told
by Sanjay Hegde

The reason why India wants to ban ‘India’s Daughter’ is a deep sense of shame it feels for letting its daughters be brutalised and for its fatalistic acceptance of male superiority attitudes

“In India we do not think who we are, we know who we are.” This sentence from the Peter Sellers film “The Party” was one of Indira Gandhi’s favourite quotes. She held a special screening of the film, for children of members of her staff. The irony is that later her government had to ban its release in India, because of protests by people who were outraged that the film caricatured Indians for Hollywood in the persona of Hrundi V. Bakshi.
Dominant culture

An India that had emerged from colonialism felt outraged by Hrundi Bakshi almost in the same manner that some south Indians took umbrage to the Indian actor Mehmood’s caricaturisation of south Indians when he played the dance master Pillai in the Hindi film “Padosan.” Both films aroused a feeling of victimhood, which ensues when a dominant culture is seen as sneering at the less dominant. Despite the definitive caricaturisation, the Indian and south Indian identities survived and went on to flourish when the heroism of “Slumdog Millionaire” and the superstardom of Rajinikanth became part of the dominant narratives.

Today, some people feel a similar sense of victimhood about Leslee Udwin’s documentary film “India’s Daughter.” The documentary was originally slated for release on March 8, International Women’s Day, and is based on the December 16 2012 rape and murder of ‘Nirbhaya’, the protests against which rocked Delhi and India. The stated reason for the outrage is the well-publicised interview of Mukesh Singh, one of the persons convicted of the gang rape and murder. The actual reason, however, is a deep sense of shame that the nation feels at letting its daughters being brutalised, accompanied by a fatalistic acceptance of male superiority attitudes that seem to be impervious to change.

Mukesh has said in the interview, “You can’t clap with one hand, it takes two hands. A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. A boy and a girl are not equal. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20 per cent of girls are good.” Mukesh’s statements may be outrageous and condemnable but they are not more outrageous than the original crime of rape and murder that he currently stands convicted of. Second, his statements may just about have prejudiced his appeal and the appeals of his co-accused, which are still pending in the Supreme Court.

The rest of the film contains many other interviews with people such as the victim’s parents who want their daughter’s horrific story to be told. Also interviewed are Gopal Subramanium and Leila Seth, who were part of the Committee that submitted legal reports that formed the basis of the rape laws that followed the incident. There are interviews with lawyers for the accused, whose statements reflect a chauvinistic, regressive mindset that reflects the root causes of the crisis. In any story, the heroine’s heroism, the parent’s loss, the lawmaker’s dilemmas can only be brought out if it is contrasted with a full depiction of the extent of the villainous actions and attitudes that lead to the original tragedy. You cannot stage Hamlet without the incest and murder that precedes his madness; nor can you have Othello without Iago’s villainy. John Milton had to forever live with the charge that the true hero of Paradise Lost was Satan himself. You cannot show “Sholay” without a Gabbar Singh’s speeches or laughter. So, far from providing Mukesh a platform for his villainy, he is an essential part of the story, without which the viewer will not feel the full extent of the pity and horror that the girl’s death deserves.

As parliamentarians express outrage and the Information and Broadcasting Ministry issues an advisory to television channels to not broadcast, it is time to ask what does a ban in this case achieve? A ban ensures that a film which may have had a limited audience becomes a worldwide cause célèbre for women’s rights and freedom of speech. In the early 1980’s, Saudi Arabia invited similar international opprobrium, when it sought to interfere with the telecast of the docudrama “Death of a Princess.” The film dealt with the circumstances surrounding the execution of Princess Misha’al bint Fahd of the Saudi ruling family, who, along with her lover, was possibly executed at the instance of her grandfather, for eloping with a commoner. The Saudis even used the good offices of their Texan oil friends, in Mobil Oil Inc., to stop the telecast. Their efforts failed, and till date the telecast remains a watershed moment in the history of Saudi women’s emancipation.

Second, the Internet has made telecast bans largely redundant. Banning a telecast only means that a viewer will watch it online or download the film through torrent sites. What a telecast ban however achieves is that it prevents the target audience of ordinary people from viewing the film. Those without access to the Internet, the technologically challenged, the housewife, those with limited incomes who are most vulnerable to rape and rape threats, will in all probability miss out on the film. On the other hand, the ban will do nothing to effectively restrain those who may want to watch for any supposed prurient interest that the film may excite. The ban, in short, will be ineffective where it is needed and effective where it is an impediment to education of those most likely to benefit from its message.
Legally untenable

Third, a ban on telecast is just not legally tenable after the Supreme Court’s judgment of 1994 in Auto Shankar’s case. A temporary stay on telecast may be obtained, but in the final judgment such a ban is unlikely to be upheld. In R. Rajagopal vs. State of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court firmly repelled the State of Tamil Nadu’s attempts to prohibit serialisation of the autobiography of Auto Shankar who stood condemned to death. It ruled: “We must accordingly hold that no such prior restraint or prohibition of publication can be imposed by the respondents upon the proposed publication of the alleged autobiography of “Auto Shankar” by the petitioners. This cannot be done either by the State or by its officials. In other words, neither the government nor the officials who apprehend that they may be defamed, have the right to impose a prior restraint upon the publication of the alleged autobiography of Auto Shankar.”

Last, if India bans the film for telecast in India, it will act as an instant advertisement for the film worldwide. In fact BBC4 has already advanced the broadcast of the film even as the Indian government is attempting to serve its court order. The film “The Party” may have passed off as a minor comedy, but for the outrage that it excited in India and the ban it earned. Similarly, one can easily foresee ‘India’s Daughter’ being marketed as the film Incredible India does not want you to see. The answer to an unlikeable film is not a ban, but another film that tells your side. If India were to wisely use the Nirbhaya fund to achieve safe streets for its daughters, ‘India’s Daughter’, from beyond the grave, will have done good for this country.

(Sanjay Hegde is a Supreme Court advocate.)

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4.) Full text of statement by the Editors Guild of India:

The Government of India’s move in banning the telecast of the BBC documentary ’India’s Daughter’ depicting the aftermath of the brutal gang rape and murder of Nirbhaya is wholly unwarranted, based as it is on a misunderstanding of the power and the message behind it. The documentary portrays the courage, sensitivity and liberal outlook of a family traumatised by the brutality inflicted on the daughter, the continuing shameful attitudes towards women among the convict as well as the educated including lawyers and multiple voices in support of women’s freedom and dignity including students, former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, Justice Leila Seth, Oxford academic Maria Misra and senior advocate and former Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam. While the Supreme Court has declared that there should be the broadest freedom to express even the most unacceptable of views, the message that emerges from the documentary is wholly positive and its power is such as to make people re-examine their own attitudes and the attitudes of people around them.

The Nirbhaya incident has been an obvious matter of public interest and has through all the stages of the investigation, trial and confirmation by the high court, been subject to a widespread public debate and discussion, protests and demonstrations and enquiry by the Justice Verma Commission that suggested reform of the law. To raise the issue of sub judice now at the stage of final appeal in the Supreme Court and seek to still discussion is absurd. Judges, particularly in the Supreme Court, are by training and temperament immune to the happenings in the public sphere outside the court, and it is an insult to the Supreme Court to suggest that the airing of the convict’s perverted views would tend to interfere with the course of justice.

Prompted by initial expressions of outrage, including by members of Parliament, over the views of the convict included in the documentary, the Government seems to have decided on the ban without viewing the documentary in its entirety. The rationale that the ban was in the interests of justice and public order as the film "created a situation of tension and fear amongst women" and as that the convict would use the media to further his case in the appeal that was sub-judice seems to be an afterthought.

The Editors Guild of India appeals to the Government of India to revoke the ban forthwith and enable the people to view what is a positive and powerful documentary touching on the freedom, dignity and safety of women.

Published: March 06, 2015

[the above statement has been report in press here:

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5) AIDWA strongly opposes the blanket ban on the documentary titled "India’s Daughter"

All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA) strongly opposes the blanket ban on the documentary titled “India’s Daughter” made by BBC 4. This is a knee jerk reaction that constitutes an attack on the freedom of expression. Furthermore the film reveals the reality of the brutality of rape without sensationalizing it. [. . .]

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6.) Other relevant material:


The above materials are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use