India Fails its Women by Banning This Documentary

(Mohd Asim is Senior News Editor, NDTV 24x7)

A documentary called 'India's Daughters' is causing much consternation in the country today. The film, made on the grotesque December 16 rape case and the protests that erupted, features an interview with one of the convicted rapists and also the defence lawyers.

Now the government has got a court injunction on the airing of the documentary after outrage by a section of the media, a few activists and some Parliamentarians over what they saw as glorification of the rapists and the provision to them of undue space to air their perverted views.

After having watched the documentary myself this afternoon, I am convinced that the protests are misguided. Why must this film be banned, and dubbed as some international conspiracy to malign India's image?
Those protesting against the film have just flown off the handle like a primetime anchor who can at best be called Outrageous Emeritus. They have made up their mind that the film is insulting to Nirbhaya without even waiting to watch it. Well it's a familiar story with every ban in this country. The most outraged are mostly the most ignorant.

First, on the charge of the breach of journalistic ethics in interviewing a rapist. Well, it looks terrible on the face of it. But once you see the film as a whole, you see the point. The film at no point glorifies the rapist or attempts to absolve him of his heinous act, let alone trying to influence the judicial process. It pins the blame where it belongs: on the individual and the collective psyche of the male chauvinist society that we are guilty of being.

The second charge is that the documentary insults and belittles the outrageous crime committed on a young girl on that fateful December night. No, it doesn't. What the film does is mirror the deep-rooted prejudices, biases and patriarchal views that translate into the most heinous of gender crimes in our part of the world.

The defence lawyer, who is blurting out 'gems' such as "In our society, we never allow our girls to come out from the house after 6:30 or 7:30 or 8:30 in the evening with any unknown person...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", is not just one individual, He is speaking for most men in our country. And these men are not confined to khap panchayats or religious institutions. These men are all around -- in politics, in police, in universities, everywhere.

The rapist's remarks, which cannot be directly reported, betray the commonplace mindset that women need to stay within the confines of four walls as the bearers of family honour. If not, they have it coming. If they go "astray", the patriarchal head of the family "must pour petrol on her and burn her alive" says another lawyer who is interviewed in the documentary tells us.

These retrograde, violent views on women are commonplace in our society. And 'India's Daughter' is not the first work that has uncovered this ugly reality. There was a Tehelka sting sometime ago that exposed the rot in the mindset of our policemen. And most of us come across them in our daily lives in one form or the other. The "blame the girl for rape" mentality is widespread and it needs to be fought by all men and women who believe in a gender-just world.

'India's Daughter' is just a documentary. It's not going to drastically alter the discourse on gender issues in our country, but banning it is also not going to help the fight against sexual violence.

Far from insulting Nirbhaya, the documentary reminds us that the battle against sexual violence is far from being won. It reminds us that we cannot pat our backs just by condemning four men to death. The thought process, the perverted ideas that give birth to, and also normalise, the barbaric treatment of women are alive and kicking in our homes, our workplaces, our streets, everywhere.

The film must be shown in India. It will shake up and jolt people. It's time to confront the truth and say it again and again, not run away from it crying conspiracy.


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