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Silencing “India’s Daughter”

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Quickly before yet another version of India’s Daughter was blocked, I watched the documentary lest I be tempted to comment on something without actually seeing it.

I needn’t have panicked I’d miss the opportunity… like rabbits, as soon as one is blocked, another link pops out of another YouTube hole.

Banning "India's Daughter" on YouTube

Banning “India’s Daughter” on YouTube

Social media and mass media alike are abuzz with reactions to the decision to not permit showing the BBC “India’s Daughter” documentary in India. And catapulted its viewing via YouTube in a way a mere airing on BBC TV alone could never have accomplished.

This comes shortly after banning beef consumption in Maharashtra. Yup…  eat beef and you can land in jail for 5 years.

Why is that relevant to India’s Daughter?

Well, if you brutally gang-rape and murder a woman when almost 18 years, that’s a 3 year sentence. Akshay Thakur will be out in December this year… hmm… hard not to feel like we’ve slipped into a weird alternate universe.

A beef burger vs a rape so brutal, her intestines were pulled out of her and she succumbed to her injuries in days, so heinous that citizens rallied to the streets all over India in 2012 and the world paid attention for a few seconds.

So intense was the attention that the rapists were found and the case made it through the initial stages in a ‘remarkably’ short time… (though now, for one year, no progress in the Supreme Court).

Why is that remarkable?

Let’s be honest, in most rape cases, no complaint is made. And if complaints are made, not all are recorded by the police. And even if ‘properly’ filed, rapists are often not arrested. Those rare cases that actually make it to the court, remain waiting for justice a decade or more later, crippled under the weight of a crumbling legal system… Many do not make it to the final stage of a judgement. And the conviction rate? A mere 22 – 27%.

That’s the reality of rape in India. And yet, even the government admits that every 20 minutes, a woman  is raped.

How banning the documentary will improve the situation is mystifying.

For those not familiar with the ‘Nirbhaya‘ (Jyoti Singh) case, she was a remarkable young woman from a modest background who dreamed of becoming a doctor.

After completing her exams, she had a rare evening ‘off’ before her internship was to start. She went to see “Life of Pi” with a friend… They made the mistake of catching an off-duty bus back.

The five men and one ‘juvenile’ in the bus beat her friend and savagely raped her for hours before they were dumped by the side of the road. When they were found, a crowd of 30 – 35 people gathered and initially when one man went to their aid, no one else would help.

What followed were mass protests – an outpouring of bottled rage against not just the ‘Nirbhaya’ case but many others where there seems no justice for girls and women victims of sexual violence.  In a tremendous show of courage and empowerment, the public rallied behind outrage over the tragedy.

One of the many placards used during the protests

One of the many placards used during the protests

As Leslee Udwin, the documentary film maker, said in an interview with NDTV, the film came out of a love of India, prompted by respect and admiration for the protests

“I felt as a woman sitting on the other side of the world… that here was India leading the world by example… In my life I have never seen a country so impressively standing up for gender equality.”

Part of what makes the documentary so controversial is that it interviews the gang-rapists, specifically the driver (Mukesh Singh), and looks at the context which enabled such brutality to occur.

In the documentary, Mukesh says:

“A decent girl won’t roam around at night. A girl is more responsible for rape than a boy… Boy and girl are not equal.”

“When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy.”

“The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Before, they would rape and say, ‘Leave her, she won’t tell anyone.’ Now when they rape, especially the criminal types, they will just kill the girl. Death.”

Mukesh Singh

Mukesh Singh on the rape

What is equally disturbing are the statements of the defence lawyers. AP Singh defends his earlier statement to the media that:

“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.”

Over and over in the documentary and in the media, despite the tragedy, there is a quiet strength from the words of Jyothi’s parents – Asha and Badri Singh.


With tremendous dignity, Jyoti’s mother argues against those who blame the victim

Wisely, Leslee exited India after an NDTV interview where she made a heartfelt plea to the PM to permit showing the documentary lest the ban backfire against India instead of a tool for positive change.

Speaking as someone who is fortunate to call India my adopted home, I’m not blind to its challenges. Sexual harassment, rape, violence against women happen all over the world. India is not unique.

However the prevalence of attitudes which condone such occurrences stem from attitudes embedded in a deeply patriarchal environment that must be experienced to be believed.

A society that has many inspiring stories of highly accomplished and empowered women, equally has unspoken tragedies and lives lost before they even begin.

So then?

As one of Jyoti’s friend says in the documentary:

“The only way you can change things is education.”

And yet the lawyers spouting rubbish were ‘educated’.

It is the kind of educatation needed… recently in the Lok Sabha on the debate which erupted with the decision to ban “India’s Daughter”, MP Kirron Kher argued:

“What’s the point of schemes like ‘Beti Bachao‘ if mindsets don’t change?”

I’ve been reading the Saath Saath material created by Avehi Abacus in recognition after the ‘Nirbhaya’ case that change requires education and a different kind of dialogue with youth.

It takes practical steps to bring light and discussion to the nuances of gender bias. It is equally for boys as girls. In a highly sensitive way, it helps equip teachers to have meaningful conversation about gender, the context of bias, sexuality, peer pressures, media, pay inequality, sexual violence and becoming an empowered person.

Is there hope the next generation will find blaming a woman for rape repugnant?

Yes… but not if we do not have the courage to have the conversation.

And not just one day in a year… Happy International Women’s Day!

Related articles:

Please go to their website for more information about Avehi Abacus (avehiabacus.org) and their Saath Saath program (avehiabacus.org/saath-saath.html).

All images should be treated as retaining the original copyright of “India’s Daughter”



  1. Madhu says:

    Well said. I find the lack of unequivocal opposition to the ban most disheartening. It could be because the previews were not handled well and shocked most people, but still.
    Happy women’s day to you too!

    • I know I’m ‘preaching to the choir here…’ But what is more shocking? Documenting such opinions or that people can hold and articulate such notions?! Happy women’s day to you as well!

  2. It is still shocking to see how low the sentence is for rapists. It is not only in India. Few years ago it was shortly in Finnish news that a rapist got only a 6 month prison sentence whileas another guy went to prison for a few years for killing an Elk off-season…

    • Sounds like Finland also has a whacky sense of justice. 6 months? Whoops! Sorry! Seem to have misplaced where I put my p2nu$?!

      For rape, the sentence was very low in India. After this case, a new law was brought in 2013 – For ‘aggravated’ rape, it can be 7 years to life. For ‘gang rape’ 20 years and something like this case which also leads to murder life or death penalty.

      However the juvenile – who by some accounts was the most violent of the lot – received 3 years. The others initially received a death sentence due to the violence of the crimes yet their case is waiting before the Supreme Court for over a year.

      • It is especially shocking even though there was and is so much media coverage that they don’t get things done and put these guys away forever! At least in Germany they still feature it in the news, latest since that guy who was sentenced for three years told the media his crap….
        Well, who am I to think media doer age helps to speed up stuff…germany is also a. Prime example. There is for soon two years a struggle before court because of the right wing terrorist group which killed dozens of foreigners in the past decade and no results yet…

        • Actually it was the driver who was interviewed – he’s facing life and/or death penalty. The juvenile who will be out this year was not interviewed.

          Alas there are a multitude of injustice the world over! And differing opinions on what constitutes justice.

  3. A must needed post. I have been following the case on and off. From last time I understood – the rapists were given the death sentence except the juvenile. Has that changed? Also, I am struggling with whether the documentary should be shown or not myself. The sensible part of me says of course it should be aired, but then I also feel there’s a vast section of the regressive thinking people who probably are celebrating the version of the rapists. I just wish the rapist didn’t get a platform at all in the whole discussion – but I just know how it would be possible in the context.

    • Quite true the ‘adults’ received the death penalty however… the appeal remains tied up in the courts with not a single hearing in over a year. So… nothing is final.

      After seeing the documentary, I know it should be shown. Shedding light on the context and attitudes is an important part of recognising the nature of the underlying problem.

      No documentary can ‘solve’ everything or ‘satisfy’ all parties, but this is a step in the right direction… particularly if accompanied by tough conversations.

      The reaction to the retrograde remarks by the lawyers has at least led to their own association taking steps to have them removed from their profession. Yet how many others voice the same opinions unchecked?

  4. aobeamber says:

    I have watched that documentary and it is a very difficult movie. I look with fear at cases when inhumans get away with murder that easy. And that’s where I see a problem, the humans life, health and dignity is not valued at all. And the fact they gave the rapists who showed no remorse a voice and showed the opinion of the lawyers who defend them, just once again proves that.

    This documentary could have become a good message, if it wasn’t one sided. It gave me a feeling that the main purpose of the western media was to picture India a number#1 poor rapist country, which was dangerous for people, especially women, to live in. I believe BBC should filmthe documentaries about the same cases in the USA, South America, Africa or any other country in Europe (Sweden, for example) to be more fare. However I doubt they would ever do this, because the rape as a crime became so usual in the western world, that it wouldn’t make such resonance as in India.

    • No documentary – especially on such a sensitive and uncomfortable a topic – could ever meet all expectations. I didn’t get the sense that its purpose was to depict India as a poor rapist country… instead it took courage to examine with sensitivity the context that enabled such horrific acts to occur. If you watch some of the Udwin’s interviews, you can see she had saw it from a more universal perspective. If you look at BBC’s documentaries, they have covered a range of issues in many countries – not just India. Perhaps some may resonate for you.

  5. BerLinda says:

    So shocking and sad. I just can’t get my head around that attitude. I read today that an Indian student (male) had been rejected from a course at a German university because of the ‘rape culture of his country’ – I’m not sure that helps matters either.

    • Certainly doesn’t! I thought the German Ambassador to India’s response to the professor was well done.

      The only good that can come from horrific events like this is if we have the difficult conversations that positively change attitudes and potentially reduce such occurrences or lead to a more sensitive and appropriate handling of rape when it does occur.

      What I find particularly problematic is the conviction rate has DROPPED significantly in the last few years… that speaks to an entire system that isn’t working.

  6. Reblogged this on anenglishwomaninmumbai and commented:
    I wanted to write an article on this subject, but after reading this excellent article by Carissa I decided to reblog this instead! Please read and share. Happy International Women’s day!

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