Leslee Uwdin’s documentary for BBC India’s Daughter elicited a growl of protest not only among the political class, but men and women across India grumbled about it abundantly on social media. While the government’s move to ban the screening of the film was ridiculous to say the least, the film itself was quite problematic as we had noted in Firstpost.
Understandably, people were least likely to stop debating either about the film, or India’s reaction to it quickly.
Recently, Udwin, journalist Barkha Dutt and women’s rights activist Sunitha Krishnan were invited to the Women In The World summit in New York. A video that was uploaded on YouTube on 24 April shows a discussion with Udwin, Dutt and CBS news anchor Norah O’Donnell.
Donnell opens the discussion by commenting how India’s Daughter was the ‘most disturbing’ film she has seen till date and that it has made her ‘think deeply’. She goes on to ask Udwin why she wanted to make the film. Udwin, singing praises for the Indian protesters, said that the wave of protest that washed over India prompted her to make the documentary.
“It felt like they were fighting for my rights,” said Udwin. Interestingly enough, while Udwin’s documentary talks about the protests, it gives a fleeting few seconds of screen time to the likes of Kavitha Krishnan who had been instrumental in organising the protests. The documentary, curiously enough, ignores the Indian voices that drove the protests and instead keeps going back to Maria Misra, a Oxford historian, to explain the politics of the protest.
In the discussion, O’Donnell then begins talking about the impact of the documentary and comments that the documentary made her realise how ‘unsafe India is for women’.
Which is when Barkha Dutt intervenes and says that though she doesn’t support the ban on the film, she has serious issues with Udwin’s narrative and what some of the film’s audience’s have made of it.
She points out that statistics show that there are more incidents of sexual violence in United Kingdom and United States of America, than there is in India. She also comments that India has paid maternity leave and there are no polarized debates on the right to abortion, unlike the US.
“I don’t like the generalisations about my country,” she says to a rousing round of applause.
But just when you thought that Dutt had made a valid argument against the rampant stereotyping that the film seems to encourage, she makes a slightly off-colour assertion. She says that she once had a conversation with Hillary Clinton about why it was so difficult for women to become President in America. “I told her, we don’t have these discussions in India. We had a woman Prime Minister four decades back,” she declares jubilantly, completely ignoring the complicated political circumstances under which Indira Gandhi became the Prime Minister in India.
However, the comment met with a glorious round of applause from the audience and from several other portals.
For example ScoopWhoop carried a part of the video with the following headline: “Barkha Dutt Silences A Foreign Reporter Who Said “India Is So Unsafe For Women”.
The fact is, the moderator seems ‘silenced’ only because the site has chosen to cut exactly one minute and 46 seconds from a video that is originally over 30 minutes long. In fact, right after Dutt finishes her argument, O’Donnell though slightly stumped asks why it took the murder of a girl for the country to rise in protest.
Storypick too picks on the fact that Dutt shuts up a ‘foreign’ reporter and says, “A Foreign Reporter Said “India Is So Unsafe For Women”. Barkha Dutt Responded Back In Style.
The moment Dutt finishes talking about what kept the protests going, O’Donnell plays a clip from the part of the film where defence lawyer AP Singh casts aspersions on the victim’s character. It seems as if the anchor is insisting that the Indian reality is exactly what Udwin’s film said it was, with no alterations.
However, Udwin herself seems to defeat the purpose. With Dutt prodding her, she says that the film was supposed to be on gender inequality and how it’s a disease plaguing the world. “At the end of the film, there was a roll of statistics which indicated how rampant sexual violence is…,” she trails off, when Dutt interjects.
Dutt refers to the news that BBC had edited that bit out to make the film entirely about India. Udwin agrees and says, “Only the BBC had the right to tinker with it and I am very upset that they did. They claimed that they don’t run films with statistics because it makes the film look like NGO films.”
Though Dutt says that the ban on film is ill-conceived and there were widespread protests around it, Udwin suggests that the protests were ‘not enough’. Dutt then goes on to question the necessity of Udwin interviewing Mukesh Singh, because it was not as if anyone believed him to be possessing respectable opinions about women. Dutt asks, “What have we learnt from this interview?” a question that has perhaps crossed the minds of hundreds of people who watched Udwin’s documentary.
Udwin, however, doesn’t seem like she is willing to back off and says, “The first thing we have learnt is shock and shock is a very important aspect.” She then goes on to talk about genital mutilation and then comes back on the case of Mukesh Singh. “You have to understand the minds of these men to try to change them,” she argues.
However, that doesn’t seem a remotely convincing explanation as there is no plausible way Mukesh Singh’s interview will help identify other potential rapists or would facilitate any exercise to ‘change’ them. Also, what is a fool-proof of way of reforming men who have committed well planned and ghastly crimes like Singh and his accomplices did?
She seems to claim that her film, seems to have exclusively unravelled the mystery of patriarchy before us, enabling us to understand violence against women with more clarity. And that, unfortunately, is quite far from the truth.
We had noted in this article previously about Udwin’s documentary, “And all we can do is to watch powerlessly, as we do when women are raped over and again in this country. In a more traditional news interview, Udwin could have asked, “Do you not think that is cruel and inhuman?” It would have added a much needed counterpoint to Mukesh’s ghastly soliloquy.”
However, what is double disturbing is how the anchor seems to be quite deeply bent on suggesting that India is a homogenous society which shares the same sentiments as the lawyer AP Singh. From O’Donnell’s tone to her refusal to concur with Dutt at any given point of time, she seems far more interested in validating the stereotypes established by Udwin’s film than ‘moderating’ the discussion.
A commenter on YouTube perhaps sums up the problem with taking Udwin’s film at face value and backing it as O’Donnell does, “Not every Indian shares same views as that of the lawyer. No. Certainly not. We are far more ahead and forward and rational and modern than what people of other countries think we are, but yes, there are a few ill minded human beings also, who exist. And we are ashamed of them. But again, people like Norah should not take just that one footage (which is in fact true and shameful) to generalize the entire nation.”
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