This Article is From Mar 07, 2015

Justice for India's Daughters

(Sonia Singh is NDTV's Editorial Director)

I watched 'India's Daughter' last week prepared to hate it. NDTV had been approached by independent filmmaker Leslee Udwin regarding her documentary for the BBC, part of a global initiative on Women's Day to focus attention on sexual crimes against women and how societal attitudes must change. It was a film, she said, had been made as a tribute to Nirbhaya and the thousands of protesters that came out after this ghastly crime in a spontaneous show of solidarity, scenes she said she had never seen in any other country. Leslee had asked to use our footage of the time, as did many other international news channels, and now that the BBC had agreed for it to be part of a global initiative, she requested NDTV to be the Indian broadcast partner.

However, our final decision to carry it would depend on it meeting our standards, editorially, ethically and legally and most importantly, with the full consent of Nirbhaya's family.

Why should we give this disgusting man any publicity were my first thoughts as I sat down to watch it? 59 minutes later, I had changed my mind.

While my opinion of Mukesh... a monster of a human being... remained unchanged, what sickened me the most was how 'normal' he sounded. His 'defence': it was her fault... words which were echoed further into the documentary by his two lawyers, officers of the court. The difference between Mukesh and them was that he committed this heinous crime, yet their mental processes seemed exactly the same. Worse, these arguments are ones we have all heard often made by different politicians, judges, police officers regardless of gender. What shone through, however, was the sheer heroism of "India's Mother and Father", as I referred to them in my programme, Nirbhaya's parents. Asha and Badri were the true torchbearers of courage and dignity amid their deep, deep grief; their words are the ones you remember after you watch this documentary, not Mukesh and his lawyers.

Others as well -  Nirbhaya's young tutor, the doctor who examined her, the police constable who talked of how so many people stopped to stare at the gruesome accident but no one came forward to help, Justice Leila Seth, interviewed in painstaking detail by Leslee over two years. It was their voices that lingered. Contrary to the perception the title may create, the story may be set in India but statistics shown in the documentary make it clear this is a GLOBAL problem.  

It was absolutely essential for us however that whatever the editorial justification, Nirbhaya's parents' opinion and consent be solicited before we even considered airing it. Leslee Udwin told us the parents had seen the entire documentary and she had their written approval, but I wanted to speak to Asha, Nirbhaya's mother myself. We called her to ask and mentioned we were doing a TV programme on this documentary. Their response was instant: "We want to be part of it. We spoke to Leslee for the documentary because we didn't want the nation to forget and we want to come on your show for the same reason."

I insisted it would be too traumatic for them to hear us discuss the rapist's mindset. "It doesn't matter to me at all, I have kept a stone on my heart," said Asha. I agreed, but insisted she should join us only in the second part when we would see what the lawyers said. "We heard them say this in court too, they want publicity but my question is why the Supreme Court hasn't even begun hearing the appeal?" asked Asha - a question for which neither I nor my panelists had any answer.

On the panel for the show,  besides Nirbhaya's parents and Leslee Udwin were three women, coincidentally all from the BJP - Kiran Bedi, Pinki Anand, Additional Solicitor General of India and Vani Tripathi, member of the Censor Board plus Dushyant Dave of the Supreme Court Bar Association.

The first question I asked Leslee Udwin (whom I had met for the first time just the previous day) was if she interviewed the rapist to glorify him for TRPs?

She was outraged; perhaps that's why she revealed her own trauma on the show. In her words , "...what brought me to India was respect, admiration and being inspired by those extraordinary protesters, the ordinary men and women of India, who went out on the streets, who led the world by example because I, I myself have been raped. And I say this, it's very important that I say this, because there is no shame that should adhere to me as a result of that, the shame is the rapist's. What I've discovered on my journey, and if I hadn't met with these rapists, I wouldn't have come to the answer I've come to, the deep insight I've gained, which is that the disease is not the rapist's, the disease is the society and we, as a part of that society, must take responsibility for encouraging men to see women as of no value. You asked me why did I have to meet with the rapists - because I knew to get a meaningful answer to my question, 'why do men rape? Why does violent rape happen?' I had to go to the source. I had to hear it from them. I had to sit and ask them a hundred questions about who the significant women in their lives were, what they think of women, how a good woman should behave, what makes a bad women. I needed to understand the mentality otherwise I would have made a superficial documentary. "

Within a few hours of our programme, the matter had escalated. MPs across parties, BJP, Congress, JDU demanded a ban, women's activists asked for it not to be shown, Twitter gave its verdict, a government ban plus court order meant NDTV would not air it on the 8th as scheduled.

Leslee Udwin came to meet me before she left, "My lawyer has told me I may be arrested, I may never return to India again," she said.  "I'm devastated my film won't be seen in India but I'm happy about one thing."

"What?" I asked. "Nirbhaya's father called my producer this morning, "she said, "Badriji asked her to tell me not to worry and thanked me for making the film. That's all the validation, I need."

Will the controversy around India's Daughter focus our nation's attention once again not just on Nirbhaya and her case, but on the case of Zaheera in Lucknow, gang raped 10 years ago at 13 but still waiting for her trial to begin ? Will we look inwards and focus on how India treats all its Daughters? Will we shift our outrage over a foreign woman daring to show us unpalatable truths to the reality of what's being said? Whatever your opinion of the documentary - banal, stereotypical, patronizing - even if you hate it, if it makes us look at the reality around us, perhaps this sound and fury would have achieved something substantive for India and its citizens.

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