The rape documentary banned in India made its U.S. debut at the City University of New York on 16th March, with actresses Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto also attending to show support for the controversial film. In India, the documentary was to be released on 8th March (International Women’s Day) on NDTV news, but it got cancelled after the Indian government banned its filming even as the appeal proceedings are pending before the court. The NDTV news channel went dark with an image of a candle onscreen. The United States debut of “India’s Daughter” was followed by the British Broadcasting Corp.’s Channel Four on the night of 18th March 2015.
The documentary “India’s Daughter” by Leslee Udwin faces uproar from different age-groups and mindsets in the country. It is hardly surprising that it faces several cultural taboos with its contradictory views and opinions that call for serious speculation amongst Indian masses. While the documentary has been misunderstood to defame India even as rape is an unfortunate global phenomenon, the mindset of those committing the heinous crime happens to be similar all over the world. In this context, the documentary becomes relevant globally, and not just for Indians, but any global citizen, as it opens a window for debate on men’s wrong mindset that comes forth through this documentary opening up a topic for debate.
The 45-minute documentary is an insightful account on a broader view with highlights covering the interviews of Nirbhaya’s (Jyoti Singh) parents and her friend. But it also brings forth the views of the convicts (the unpopular views of Mukesh Singh and the lawyers seem to have irked many Indians), which most likely caused all the uproar in the media and the parliament. Some of the views on the interview quote the cultural anecdotes many Indian women have grown up listening to. To think of the broader picture on rising rape cases and the issue of gender inequality in India and also globally, we must look at the root cause for such a trigger causing violation (the mindset/belief system at large). This documentary does that: it opens up a taboo subject on how many men and the society-at-large seem to think about women traveling alone, or exerting their free will.
I vote for the documentary to be aired because it reflects the society’s bias against women. The degree of unfairness may vary from a country to country, but the matter is at large when it comes to women facing unequal status in the society in terms of unequal pays, gender-based promotions and hikes, employment preference, all the way to extreme crimes like rape, domestic violence and so on. All of the standard safety generalizations for women seem to have one big problem: they put the onus for a man’s violating behavior upon a woman. “Women seem to invite dangerous situations upon themselves by asserting their freedom, be it their choice of clothes, their mode of transport, and their decision to step out of their homes during late night hours, their choice to work and the timings, their social lives, or simply put, women asserting their free will.” It is the thinking behind such crimes which comes forth with Leslee’s documentary. It is this perception which needs to be challenged and stricken out. It is not women who invite trouble, but it is the wrong mindset of men and their values that need a ‘rattle and change’.
Like Durkhiem says, “We must not say that an action shocks the common conscience because it is criminal, but rather that it is criminal because it shocks the common conscience”. Passing of anti-rape laws can curb a fraction of incidents perhaps, but I believe that any real change can truly happen with a society’s introspection that might be prompted by this documentary, which hopefully opens up a healthy debate.
A recent article (by UN) quotes that more than 150 countries worldwide lack on laws guaranteeing equal access to capital and property ownership, while nine nations legally restrict women’s freedom of movement.
This documentary deserves to be circulated amongst masses as the under-representation of women in decision-making and the crimes of violence against women are a “worldwide phenomena,” representing male domination in the world which needs to change with introspection and debate, if women are ever to be truly equal.
What does India think?
Sanjay Puri has been working on Indian-American issues and facilitating stronger US-India relations through USINPAC (US India Political Action Committee and AUSIB (Alliance for US India Business), two bipartisan organizations that he chairs.