What Does Banning The Documentary India’s Daughter Accomplish Exactly?

Yesterday I read the opinions expressed by the Delhi rapists (5 men who brutally raped and beat a 23 year old medical student to death 3 years ago and are still awaiting sentencing) as they were expressed on INDIA’S DAUGHTER a BBC documentary set to air this weekend. My first reaction was RAGE. Yes, in all caps and then some.

How dare the media give these bastards a voice? How dare women of India be subjected to this kind fear mongering from beyond jail bars?

In the pieces of the documentary floating around the internet, the focus was on what the men said, on how with astoundingly sociopathic lack of remorse, they blamed women for being raped, beaten, murdered. They warned women that if they continue to come forth after being raped and try to have rapists convicted, of course they would have to be murdered. Because, of course, the men have to protect themselves.

So, my initial anger (a huge overwhelming blast of it) was against the media, against BBC, against the film maker. But then I read interviews with Leslee Udwin, the film maker who spent the past two years of her life making this film. I watched an excellent panel on NDTV where Leslee and Jyoti Singh’s (I do think it’s time to use her real name and not call her Nirbhaya, as though she were a made up girl) parents talk about the documentary and the tragedy. And I read up all I could on what the film was about.

And I was wrong. My rage was entirely misdirected.

Just as I was getting behind the documentary and placing my rage where it belonged, I found out that the documentary has been banned by the Indian government. Even the excellent NDTV panel about the documentary that had been largely instrumental in helping me see how it is vital that this conversation not be silenced has been taken down.

So while I can’t share the link, I can definitely summarize the interviews with the film maker and Jyoti’s parents that led me to change my mind and will ensure that I for one will be watching the documentary.

First, the film does not give voice to the rapists. It seeks out and shines a long awaited light on the root cause of the rampant violence against women in India, which seems to be growing instead of receding. It shows the complete and
utter lack of respect for women by a large section of society. So much so, that it borders on hatred, on seeing women as sub-human. Misogyny boiled down to it’s purest most concentrated form.

It isn’t just the rapists either, their lawyers, seemingly educated family men, also unequivocally blamed women for rapes. They talk about women as flowers (soft, destructible) who need to be protected by and from men who are thorns (strong, violent). One of the lawyers goes so far as to say that he would publicly and in the presence of family pour gasoline on his daughter and burn her if she consorted with a man she wasn’t married to.

Of course this isn’t how the entire country thinks but anyone who tells you a vast majority doesn’t is lying. And how on earth do we fix the thinking if we can’t bear to bring it out into the open and link it to the violence it begets? The precise need for a documentary like this is that the thinking and the violence are not two unrelated things. Someone needs to underscore that.

Second, the film maker herself has suffered rape, a fact she is able to state without a whit of self blame. “The shame is the rapist’s not mine.” These are words every woman (and man) needs to hear over and over again, until they are finally allowed to sink into our preprogrammed psyches and become the truth they are. If nothing else of this interview is ever aired, show women this, please.

Third, and possibly more important than anything else is that Jyoti’s parents unequivocally support the documentary. As poor, barely educated parent’s of a daughter they put through medical school, a daughter who in the face of five monsters fought to death and then lived to provide the authorities with information to prosecute her killers, as parents of such a girl, these amazing people see this documentary as the voice they must use to get justice, because they feel like they have been given none. It’s been three years since the incident and they haven’t seen a single court date for sentencing. All they have seen is the number of violent incidents rise as men are arrested and not punished and lawmakers watch and reinforce the very thinking that causes the violence.

If they have the courage to hear the men who gouged out their daughter’s body parts threaten the women of their country to stay inside their homes or else be raped and murdered, if they can look at that and hope that it will shake the nation out of it’s centuries old dogma then I believe them. When Jyoti’s mother says that if the government is cowardly enough to hide the truth in this documentary, the very social fabric of India will catch on fire, I believe her.

Because I grew up being touched on trains and buses by random, strange men without a single person around me ever coming to my aid, as did every woman in India. But I also grew up walking home alone from work and college late at night without fear. But those dichotomies are clashing now. Because society let men touch us on buses and trains and catcall us from street corners ever since we were little girls, it has created monsters with the confidence that comes from decades of going unpunished. Now let these monsters speak and let society identify its garbage so someone can finally find a way to destroy it instead of yet again sweeping it under the carpet.