The government’s decision to ban the screening of ‘India’s Daughter’ – a documentary based on Nirbhaya who was gang-raped and murdered here on December 16, 2012 – is attracting heavy criticism from several quarters. There has been support for the ban in view of the rapist Mukesh Kumar blaming the young medical intern for what happened to her on a moving bus on the fateful night, but much of the reaction, people Firstpost spoke to believe, is not based on sound logical or ethical ground.
“How different were Kumar’s words from those of a top Haryana politician who says that women are raped because they do not dress properly and if a girl does not wear jeans and is dressed properly, boys will never look at her in wrong ways? What about an MP asking his men to ‘dig the graves of Muslim women and defile their dead bodies by raping them, and a leader like Mulayam Singh saying ‘rapists should not be hanged as men make mistakes’?’’ asks women’s rights activist Jagmati Sangwan, who heads the All India Democratic Women’s Association.
Sangwan hears such views all too often. When a pub was attacked in Karnataka by a rightwing Hindu group, the then chief minister BS Yeddyurappa had said that he wanted to “end the culture of boys and girls roaming around in malls holding hands”.
“This man (Mukesh) is just following what he and others have learnt from such leaders,” she said, terming the ban on the screening of the documentary an “attack on the freedom of expression.
“The censorship is not justified at all and it is an attack on the freedom of expression. The film can be screened by editing out the part which devalues the sanctity of the victim. At least, it will help create a new political discourse,” she said.
Sharing the same view, for IFS officer Madhu Bahaduri, who left the Aam Aadmi Party after she was stopped from raising the voice against the midnight raid conducted by Somnath Bharti in the previous Delhi government, “Banning a film is not the solution of the problem of crime against women. The documentary is just showing the mindset of men.”
Filmmaker Nakul Singh Sawhney is not impressed with the argument that there is no rape culture in India which is being given in support of the ban of the movie. “If you have films which promotes rapes and present women as commodity, then why are you opposing the documentary,” he said adding that “it is silly to ban a movie”.
But he too has problems with the presentation of the film. “It reinforces the argument that people belonging to lower income group of the society commit rapes, which is not true at all. It is common across all classes. In fact, the film is oversimplification of a serious issue,” he added.
However, former additional solicitor general and eminent feminist Indira Jaising feels that the documentary encourages “tolerance of any form of violence” and wrongly projects “justifications for rape” and risks turning the convicts into “natural role models” for many misogynistic men in India.
Although she is opposed to the ban but wonders how the filmmaker got permission to interview the convict. “I am against any ban but I find interviewing the rapists is unwanted and in bad taste. I wonder how journalists and filmmakers are given permission to interrogate criminals in jails which is also illegal and encourages foreigners apart from Indians to voyeurism of this kind,” she said.
Women’s right activist and Supreme Court lawyer Vrinda Grover, who has seen the movie, says a position of engagement should be taken rather than posit it simplistically as a ban or no ban issue which she says is much more convenient but not necessarily a helpful position.
“One significant issue here is of rule of the law, fair trial and rights of victim and accused. It is critical to remember that the legal process has not yet concluded, the appeal is pending in the Supreme Court. The other concern is that the film serves to amplify hate speech against women and broadcast misogynist views.
“In fact, the precise problem with the film is that it does not probe sexual violence as a systemic issue, it isolates the gang-rape and murder accused. It profiles poor Indian men as rapists. Thus, on the one hand the film will serve to incite the wrath of the public and very soon cries of death to the rapists will resound, for they now carry the tag of monsters. On the other hand, the film will for many others, particularly men, reinforce that women deserve rape and their lives must be circumscribed by misogynist and patriarchal notions. Either way, it is a lose-lose situation for women in India,” she said adding that telecasting the film, even as legal proceedings are pending, does not “advance the cause of women’s rights or the rule of law or the right to a fair trial”.
At the same time, she refuses to subscribe to the government’s stance that the film defames India. “India should be ashamed of each and every act of violence against women. The film is, however, not an act of global solidarity,” she argued.
The backlash against the film stems from the belief that the focus on the convict, who displayed a startling lack of remorse, turns him into a convenient scapegoat for a much bigger problem.
“The filmmakers are saying that blocking the broadcast will silence the grim reality of rape culture in India. But there is already a very loud conversation in India about this reality,” said Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association.
“It is not limited to the Mukesh Singh’s interview. The rape culture lies with all of us. It lies very widely among the society at large. Reducing it to this one man and this one film is not the answer,” she added.
Women activist and lawyer Abha Singh feels permission to air the movie will encourage other under trials to ask for the same privilege. “Soon, we will find sobbing under trials with their sad stories and justification of crimes coming on TV. Therefore, the government should take note and strict action against any such public glorification of criminals.”