This Article is From May 01, 2015

Barkha Dutt On The Women's Safety Remarks That Went Viral

In an age when the answer to the question "Are you a feminist?" mostly evokes a standard disclaimer "Yes, but...", I am an unapologetic Feminist and I embrace that self-description without any qualifications.

I was excited to be a speaker at Tina Brown's 'Women in the World Summit' in New York because it gave me the opportunity to meet some truly wonderful, brave and accomplished women. From Saida Munye, a Swedish mother who went all alone to the Syrian border to look for her daughter who had run away to join the ISIS, to Meryl Streep's take on why Hollywood is still seen through the 'male gaze', I enjoyed being part of a genuinely global conversation on gender.

On one of the panels, film-maker Leslee Udwin (whose documentary 'India's Daughter' on the Delhi gang-rape is presently banned here by a court order) and I were interviewed by American TV host Norah O'Donnell. The conversation focused not just on Udwin's film, but also on how and why gender has moved into the mainstream of public debate in India after the horrific gang rape of a young woman in Delhi more than two years ago. I made it clear that I did not support the ban and thought it to be a knee-jerk, ill-conceived decision. My attempt was to go beyond the debate around the ban, and explain to an audience largely unfamiliar with India, that as horrific as the incidents of sexual violence are in India, the noise you hear is also a moment of hope -  the noise is, in fact, because men and women, all of us, are speaking up and shouting when we need to.

In a changing India, gender finally does not exist only on the margins of public and political attention. It is now center-stage and we are demanding accountability and justice for all.  

I returned to India to find that the video had gone viral this week. It has been among the trending topics on Facebook for the last two days and appears to have generated a huge online debate. I have been deluged by feedback and have been overwhelmed by how many people have written in. The comments that have attracted the most attention have been my disagreement with the moderator when she said she felt too unsafe to travel to India and told me that after watching the film, she saw India as the rape capital of the world. I expressed my strong disagreement with the simplistic and somewhat condescending caricature, challenged her on the statistical inaccuracy of her perception, and also pointed to the many continuing gender inequities within the US, not least among them rape on campus, the absence of paid maternity leave, the continuing furore over women's reproductive rights and the glass ceiling that Hillary Clinton is still battling to smash in a country that has never had a woman President.  

I said that while I accepted there were many problems and challenges we are battling in India - the refusal by our law-makers to recognise marital rape and the molestation and murder of a young woman pushed off a bus in Punjab are the most recent flashpoints - I believe every country is struggling with entrenched misogyny in varied ways. The gender debate, in effect, is a global one.

I also argued that the asymmetry of power in the global discourse around gender influenced how Indians had perceived and received Ms Udwin's film and subsequent generalised comments about the country. Could I, I asked my American Audience, have the space to come to Ferguson and make the definitive film on race?    

I see no contradiction in being a passionate feminist and advocate for equal rights and justice for all women, and in also calling out a stereotype and caricature about India. We had a lively, civilized, feisty debate that gave us all much food for thought. That the panel has generated a furious debate is satisfying. It speaks once again to why I see this as an inflection point in India for the gender conversation. We all care. Even if we don't always agree.  

You can watch the full panel of my conversation here:

(Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and Consulting Editor with NDTV. She has just launched her own multimedia content company - Barkha Dutt Live Media.)