Take a look at any mainstream media today, and you will most likely find a mention of the documentary ‘India’s Daughter’. This documentary, which is based on the 16th December, 2012 gang rape of Jyoti Singh in Delhi, has been banned by the Indian Government. The documentary, its related controversy and the horrific quotes of one of the accused Mukesh Singh have caused many in the blogosphere to relive the horror and the protests that followed the Delhi rape. This week’s Buzzing Blogosphere takes a look at the varied reactions to the controversial but telling documentary ‘India’s Daughter’.
On 16th December, 2012, 23 year old Jyoti Singh was returning home with a friend after watching a movie. They hailed an off duty bus where six men, including the driver, raped and assaulted Jyoti, leading to her death on 29th December. As details of the inhuman attack came to light, the whole nation came together to show solidarity with ‘Nirbhaya’ and protest the pathetic state of women’s safety.
Leslee Udwin’s documentary ‘India’s Daughter’ came into the limelight when some news agencies picked up Mukesh Singh’s quotes from the documentary – stark, misogynistic quotes like “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy…A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night…Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes.”
The government’s banning of the documentary has just gone to increase the curiosity and conversation surrounding the documentary. The overwhelming majority is of the opinion that the documentary may be far from perfect, but it needs to be watched in India because it can start a conversation about the attitude that is at the root of the ‘rape evil’. Bloggers feel that it is not right to ban a documentary just because it brings out certain ugly truths of the country in front of the world. Revati says, “How many of you were actually surprised that the documentary was banned to protect our national image. Because Mukesh’s views make India look bad. Because we are so used to brushing the crap that happens within our homes into the closet and putting up a brave, clean front of perfection. Aren’t we already experts at shutting up about rape to protect family dignity and save face? Wasn’t this just the same thing on a national level?”
The documentary is facing criticism over the fact that it is one sided, and shows Indian men as having the ‘Rape mindset’. While statements from Mukesh and the defence lawyer bear testimony to the patriarchal attitude of many men, it also shows how rapists and assaulters are people who walk and operate among us, so alienating them will not work. This is what Sam Rappaz has to say – “These rapists (or devils, demons, animals, scum as we usually refer to them) are PEOPLE. They are OUR people, born to ordinary folks and who were living ordinary lives. They weren’t born as sociopaths they were made into one. We use language to distance ourselves from horrifying acts and their actors. When we give dehumanizing labels to people we remove society’s culpability. We can then sit proudly in judgement of these “others”.
Another issue that bloggers have found with the documentary is that it fails to provide any real solutions to the problem. This documentary just presents the status quo, and in a worst case scenario, reinforces the patriarchy prevalent in the Indian society. Shivani Nag says, “It shows none of the positives and also fails to show how patriarchy continues to assert itself through various ways. Where are the voices of women and their opinions on how their life has or has not changed? Where is the examination of structural changes in the institutions? The only trajectory that the movie does capture for the world to see is of an unrepentant culprit, and that is nothing new – here, or even in her part of the world. How exactly will violators repent if the core assumptions of patriarchy remain unchallenged?”
There are also doubts about the film painting all of India’s men as villains and women-haters in a bid to highlight just how unsafe women are in India. India has been branded one of the most unsafe places for women after incidents of rape came to light.
But bloggers feel that these reactions without knowing where these behaviour patterns stem from are doing the cause of women equality a disservice. Desh Kapoor says, “We now want a juggernaut of social mores cemented over 1200 years to suddenly turn its course 180 degrees in a matter of 20 years! Without any preparation or social change management. To understand the gravity of this change, try making a change in your family of four by simply making an announcement of your intention to change your job and location. Heck, even a change of car will do these days in India. And then.. try managing that change through sheer outrage and anger!”
Bloggers also have an issue with the name of the documentary – ‘India’s Daughters’, which limits the identity of Indian women as being known only in relation to someone, someone who should be cocooned and protected. Kavita Krishnan says, “Hailing Indian women as “India’s daughters” is something India’s patriarchs including Indian government’s and the most anti-feminist forces in India have always done. Why does a global campaign against gender violence do the same?
Moreover, why should a global campaign against gender violence be called “Daughters of India”? Though the articles do cite statistics of gender violence from other countries too including England and Wales and Denmark, it does seem that the focus of the campaign is India. Does it seek to convey the impression that “India’s daughters” are in need of a rescue mission?”
On the other hand, there are also views that being called someone’s daughter is something to be proud of, and not an insult to women. In times when the safety of women is under threat, the relation in which a woman is referred to is the least of women’s problems according to Deeps, who says, “Yes I agree, a woman’s identity is beyond the roles she plays. What I don’t understand is the assumption that the term daughter or beti is being used in the film or the campaign to convey that a woman needs to be saved. Each of the role a woman plays is integral to the life she leads and she needs to be respected for the role she plays. It doesn’t mean that she is asking to be saved or protected. I’m a daughter. I’m a wife. I’m a mother. I’m a woman. But I can take care of myself. I dont need to be saved or protected.”
Some bloggers chose not to write about the documentary, but the underlying issue of the way that a woman has to live in India – under the shadow of being violated. Meeta says, “Many of us have always been ‘good girls’. We don’t step out alone at night, we don’t get drunk, we don’t wear short clothes, we don’t go to bars and discos. We do the right thing at the right time. Housework and all that he said. Being a ‘good girl’ keeps one safe by the rapist’s rules. ‘Good girls’ live by their rules.”
Another blogger chose to reply to the general excuse offered for raping someone – that they were tempted or provoked. Prerna Subramanian asks, “If I wear clothes, I am an aunty, If I don’t wear proper clothes, I am a slut, asking for rape. I am asking: What will you call me, if I give up on clothes?”
At the end of all the demonizing rapists and setting them apart from ‘normal people’, there are some bloggers who recognize that the problem exists in everyone who has ever tried to curtail or limit a woman, and taunted her when she refused to walk on the path predetermined for her. Siddhesh Kabe says, “We are truly sorry, Nirabhaya, for if the men in the country had an ounce of bravery that you displayed in fighting against what was wrong, we would not have to face a scoundrel shame the whole country on global television. We are truly sorry, Nirabhaya, for if the woman of the country had an ounce of courage you showed while fighting the six assailants, we would be outraging over some other issue.”
There will be endless conversations about the impact and legitimacy of the the documentary. But conversation, any conversation about the issue of women’s safety in India is welcome, for it will mean the end of ages of such issues being brushed under the carpet. What is your take on ‘India’s Documentary’? Have you read an interesting article about the topic? We would love to know!