Investigative journalists and a raucous cable news culture have managed to bring a discussion about rape into Indian living rooms in ways that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. A series of horrific, widely-reported gang rapes in Delhi and Mumbai sparked intense outrage over the past two years and the Indian government quickly passed laws with harsher punishments for rapists.
Leslee Udwin has made a documentary for the BBC titled “India’s Daughter”. The documentary has a series of interviews with convicted rapists, their lawyers and others. The Indian government has requested and received a restraining order preventing the BBC from airing the documentary. In response, the BBC broadcast the film in the UK today, rather than waiting for International Women’s Day on March 8.
Mukesh Singh is one of the men accused of gang-raping and brutalizing a 23-year old woman in a privately-operated bus in 2012 in Delhi. He was the driver of the bus she and her male friend boarded. The woman later died of the internal injuries she suffered. Much of the controversy centers around some comments made by Mukesh in an interview that is part of the film. Mukesh says:
“You can’t clap with one hand, it takes two hands. A decent girl won’t roam around at 9 o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. A boy and a girl are not equal. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20 per cent of girls are good.”
The open secret of course, is that many in India, of both genders hold views that would be variations on this theme. Which is something the AP latches onto in A Murderer and Rapist’s Views Reflect Those of Many in India
“What the man spoke reflects views of many men in India,” Anu Aga, a prominent businesswoman and legislator said in Parliament.”Every time a rape happens, the victim is blamed to have provoked the men. Let’s be aware of the view and not pretend all is well,” she said.
Many Indian men (I’m one), perhaps the vast majority care enormously about women in their families and the world at large. Most Indian families create a loving environment for all their children. Indian culture has staggering regional diversity, and contains both matrilineal (descent/inheritance via the female line) and matriarchal societies. Millions of people marched in the streets to protest these rapes, demand better public transport, infrastructure and speedy judicial redress for crimes against women.
Udwin is quoted in The Guardian’s article India’s Daughter: ‘I made a film on rape in India. Men’s brutal attitudes truly shocked me’:
“It was an Arab spring for gender equality,” Udwin says. “What impelled me to leave my husband and two children for two years while I made the film in India was not so much the horror of the rape as the inspiring and extraordinary eruption on the streets. A cry of ‘enough is enough’. Unprecedented numbers of ordinary men and women, day after day, faced a ferocious government crackdown that included teargas, baton charges and water cannon. They were protesting for my rights and the rights of all women. That gives me optimism. I can’t recall another country having done that in my lifetime.”
But this story isn’t about all the wonderful things and great people who live in India. It’s about the bad stuff that comes with an intensely patriarchal culture (not unique to India). As a number of the news reports note, gender inequality, ingrained in Indian culture, results in pervasive discrimination and violence against women. The Guardian writes about the murdered victim:
Jyoti, initially given the name Nirbhaya, meaning fearless in Hindi, to preserve her anonymity, died after 13 days. Her parents, given 2 million rupees (£21,000) by the government, set up the Nirbhaya Trust to help women who have experienced violence. “We want to help those girls who have no one,” Jyoti’s father says. […]Jyoti’s father, a man of shining integrity, says of his daughter: “In death, she lit such a torch … whatever darkness there is in this world should be dispelled by this light.”
In an article on the BBC’s website, Delhi rapist says victim should not have fought back, the film-maker Leslee Udwin quotes Mukesh further:
People “had a right to teach them a lesson” he suggested – and he said the woman should have put up with it.”When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy,” he said.
Chillingly, he went on: “The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Before, they would rape and say, ‘Leave her, she won’t tell anyone.’ Now when they rape, especially the criminal types, they will just kill the girl. Death.”
and she goes on to quote the lawyers who defended the five men:
“In our society, we never allow our girls to come out from the house after 6:30 or 7:30 or 8:30 in the evening with any unknown person,” said one of the lawyers, ML Sharma.”You are talking about man and woman as friends. Sorry, that doesn’t have any place in our society. We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.”
The other lawyer, AP Singh, had said in a previous televised interview: “If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight.”
He did not disown that comment when I put it to him. “This is my stand,” he said. “I still today stand on that reply.”
but perhaps the most shocking of the many snippets is this:
One of the men I interviewed, Gaurav, had raped a five-year-old girl. I spent three hours filming his interview as he recounted in explicit detail how he had muffled her screams with his big hand.He was sitting throughout the interview and had a half-smile playing on his lips throughout – his nervousness in the presence of a camera, perhaps. At one point I asked him to tell me how tall she was. He stood up, and with his eerie half-smile indicated a height around his knees.
When I asked him how he could cross the line from imagining what he wanted to do, to actually doing it – given her height, her eyes, her screams – he looked at me as though I was crazy for even asking the question and said: “She was beggar girl. Her life was of no value.”
The NY Times has some coverage Man Convicted of Rape in Delhi Blames Victim which discusses the government request to suppress the film:
After complaints by the home minister, an Indian court issued a restraining order, stating that Mr. Singh’s interview created “an atmosphere of fear and tension with the possibility of public outcry and law and order situation.” The order said the film violated four Indian statutes, including one against “intent to cause alarm in the public” and another banning acts “intended to outrage the modesty of a woman.”Ms. Udwin said the order amounted to a ban.
“That means they have banned a film which is in the public interest without having seen it, without having requested a copy of it,” she said. The film will be distributed through social media, she added.
“No intelligent person can watch this film and not understand that these remarks are not being promulgated,” she said.
Another article in the NY Times Broadcast of India Gang Rape Documentary Is Banned by Court quotes several prominent Indian women discussing the impact airing the film may have:
The author Nilanjana S. Roy warned of the “very real risk of turning a rapist into the Twitter celebrity of the day.” Kavita Krishnan, of the leftist All-India Progressive Women’s Association, saw patriarchal undertones in the advance foreign coverage for the film, describing “a sense of India as a place of ignorance and brutality toward women, that inspires both shock and pity, but also call for a rap on the knuckles from the ‘civilized world’ for its ‘brutal attitude.’ ”Others defended the film. Shobhaa De, a popular Mumbai-based columnist, wrote that the film “must be made compulsory viewing in our schools, colleges and government offices.” And writing on the news website FirstPost, Sandip Roy, a journalist and novelist, questioned why people were so outraged by the convict’s statements, considering that, as he put it, “Singh’s observations would not sound that out of place in the mouths of many law-abiding Indians.”
In Wishing away India’s culture of rape, Rukmini Srinivasan highlights a number of other outrageous comments recently made by Indian men, some in positions of power, concerning rape:
Mukesh’s repugnant comments are echoed by one of the defence lawyers, A.P. Singh, who tells Ms. Udwin that he would set ablaze his sister or daughter if she “engaged in premarital activities.” Another lawyer M.L. Sharma is a step worse. “If you keep sweets on the street then dogs will come and eat them. Why did [her] parents send her with anyone that late at night?” he says. Another man convicted of raping a ten-year-old tells Ms. Udwin, “she was a beggar child. Her life had no value.”Statements such as these, which separate the ‘good’ girl from the ‘bad’ girl, are not rare, and have been made repeatedly by leading politicians of the country such as Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. Mr. Khattar said during his election campaign that “if a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way.” Nationalist Congress Party leader Asha Mirje said in early 2014, “Did Nirbhaya really have to go to watch a movie at 11 in the night with her friend? Take the Shakti Mills gang-rape case. Why did the (victim) go to such an isolated spot at 6 p.m.?” A couple of days back, a video of a right-wing leader saying in the presence of Bharatiya Janata Party MP Yogi Adityanath that Muslim women’s corpses should be dug up and raped resurfaced.
Some Indian institutions are chiming in, The Indian Express reports: Gangrape documentary: Bar Council of India head upset with anti-women remarks by lawyers
Bar Council of India (BCI) Chairman Manan Kumar Mishra on Thursday termed “unwarranted” the alleged anti-women remarks of certain lawyers, including a defence counsel of the December 16 gangrape convict.
The BCI Chairman, however, said the lawyers’ body cannot initiate action on its own without any complaint.
“Unless and until the council gets a complaint in writing, we cannot initiate any action. Until now, we have not received any complaint in this regard.
“Once the complaint comes, we will examine that and only then we can do anything. Comments against women appear to be unwarranted, but we cannot do anything unless we get some complaint in this regard,” he said.
Senior advocate Raju Ramchandran disagreed with the view of the BCI Chairman and said the bar council “has a duty to issue suo motu notice and ask for explanation” of the lawyers.
“It is not part of lawyers’ professional duty to justify his client’s conduct specially when it is a crime outside the court. Inside the court, it is a part of duty as a defence lawyer. Lawyers have the maximum latitude inside courtroom.
The Hindu’s editorial page is firmly against any attempt to suppress the film.
The Hindi press is mostly reporting on events along similar lines and the opinion pieces are condemning the statements made by the convicted rapist and his lawyers. The Navbharat Times has the following post (in Hindi): Remember Nirbhaya, but not this way please. The writer discusses the views of the convicts and their lawyers, notes this is a reflection of wider attitudes in Indian culture, remarks on the suspicion that some of the controversy may have been sparked to generate buzz for the movie, wonders whether it is right to provide such a platform to the hateful views of the rapists and questions the government authorities that approved the interviews. The Indian government claims the film-maker breached the agreement to use the interview only in non-commercial ways. The writer says he agrees that an attempt should be made to understand the criminal mind, but is discomfited by airing their repugnant views so widely.
The Times of India reports on the Indian government’s effort to block the film: Govt serves legal notice to BBC for airing Nirbhaya film ‘India’s Daughter’ and YouTube removes Nirbhaya documentary:
When contacted, a YouTube spokesperson said: “While we believe that access to information is the foundation of a free society and that services like YouTube help people express themselves and share different points of view, we continue to remove content that is illegal or violates our community guidelines, once notified.”The video sharing site did not confirm whether it has received a notification from the government, which is required to remove the content from its site.
The NYTimes is also reporting on the same story: India Asks YouTube to Remove Delhi Rape Film:
“We just forwarded the court order and asked them (YouTube) to comply,” an official at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology told Reuters.
India’s legal protections for speech are not as robust as those we enjoy in the US. Various books and films have been suppressed in the past (including Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses) for fear they would cause public unrest. Over time though, India’s Supreme Court seems to have moved towards a more expansive view of the rights of people to free expression (which is a “fundamental right” in the Indian constitution). Again in the Hindu, Sanjay Hegde walks through some of the issues but believes the Supreme Court will not suppress the documentary indefinitely.
Third, a ban on telecast is just not legally tenable after the Supreme Court’s judgment of 1994 in Auto Shankar’s case. A temporary stay on telecast may be obtained, but in the final judgment such a ban is unlikely to be upheld. In R. Rajagopal vs. State of Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court firmly repelled the State of Tamil Nadu’s attempts to prohibit serialisation of the autobiography of Auto Shankar who stood condemned to death. It ruled: “We must accordingly hold that no such prior restraint or prohibition of publication can be imposed by the respondents upon the proposed publication of the alleged autobiography of “Auto Shankar” by the petitioners. This cannot be done either by the State or by its officials. In other words, neither the government nor the officials who apprehend that they may be defamed, have the right to impose a prior restraint upon the publication of the alleged autobiography of Auto Shankar.”
As in many other places, rape has always been present in India. Historically, it’s been covered up with various euphemisms. As a child, I wondered what “eve-teasing” was, and decided it was either whistling or ogling at girls. Never did it cross my mind that police blotters used the term for all manner of crimes, including rape, but they did.
Indian cinema has dealt with rape before, with varying degrees of sensitivity. The film Chan Pardesi is a (some would say the) Punjabi classic and revolves around the rape of a young bride who ends up raising the resulting child as her own. As do many others.