India’s Daughter: Interrupting the silence

by Sôffi James

Indian women participate in a candle light vigil at a bus stop where the victim boarded the bus in New Delhi, India, (AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

(AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal)

Aired on International Women’s Day, India’s Daughter, a documentary by Leslee Udwin, tells the horrific story of a girl who was raped and murdered by a gang of men in Delhi in 2012. Jyothi Sing, a medical student, was travelling on a bus to a local cinema, when she was brutally gang raped and left for dead on the side of the road. The details of the crime have been extensively documented by media outlets across the globe.

The film makes an example of the perpetrators’ complete lack of remorse and the rapists’ narrative is littered with statements of victim blaming. Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus, and one of Jyothi’s rapists said: “A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.” A rapist of a five-year-old child said: “She was beggar girl. Her life was of no value.”

The attitudes portrayed in the film are so shocking, audiences reported struggling to sit through the whole hour. It would be easy to view these men as a delusional minority, psychopathic villains with no sense of morality. But ML Sharma, a lawyer and a professional who should have a strong and unshakeable grasp of moral conduct, holds similar views. “You are talking about man and woman as friends,” he says. “Sorry, that doesn’t have any place in our society. In our culture, there is no place for a woman.” Another lawyer is also recorded openly saying he would set his own daughter alight and watch her burn, if she were to dishonour him.

The man on the outside of the prison and the man on the inside seem somewhat interchangeable.

Protesters mark the anniversary of the Delhi gang rape of Jyoti Singh in 2012 (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

Protesters mark the anniversary of the Delhi gang rape of Jyoti Singh in 2012 (Adnan Abidi/Reuters)

These men’s abhorrent views are so normalised in their minds, that they do not even understand why they are being punished. But it is important to note, Singh is depicted not as a monster, or as a detestable man, but as a product of his patriarchal society. This nature versus nurture debate is divisive, but it seems that Udwin comes down on the side of nurture, suggesting that these rapists’ values are shaped by the culture they grew up in. Udwin is careful not to remove culpability, but emphasises the fact that the rapists are not alone in their view of women as second class citizens, if citizens at all.

The Guardian reported that a rape occurs every 20 minutes in India; a horrifying statistic. But this is not a story restricted to India, it happens everywhere. Rape Crisis has reported that in England and Wales over 400,000 people are victims of sexual violence on average each year. This crime is not something that happens somewhere else to someone else; it affects us all.

Which makes this next fact even more unfathomable: the Indian authorities banned the airing of this film. Their reasoning was that Udwin had not acquired the proper permissions for interviewing the prisoners. Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu even laughably described the film as “an international conspiracy.”

Naidu isn’t implying that rape is deplorable; but that talking about rape is deplorable. Not only does this serve as a lesson to victims to keep quiet, but directly facilitates the actions of a rapist who can seemingly commit this heinous crime without facing retribution.

The banning of this documentary is a shameful act. It is an attempt to stifle the exposure that these despicable attitudes are not isolated to a minority of men, but adopted by figures of authority, people employed to protect the rights of all citizens. Udwin has taken it upon herself to do what India’s authorities have failed to: shine a light on the darkest recesses of society and talk about them openly.

While some critics have taken the documentary to task for jeopardising the integrity of court proceedings and adopting a ‘white saviour’ outlook, the film, in my opinion, is still necessary viewing. Lack of knowledge, awareness and education are the reasons such incidents happen. Education is key in the fight against sexual violence and Udwin’s documentary is a small step in the right direction, despite being a hard pill to swallow. Our moral imperative is to speak out about injustice and listen to others who do just that.

Sexual violence is a pervasive cancer spreading silently across society and we need to interrupt the silence.

To view the documentary, visit http://indiasdaughterdocumentary.blogspot.in/ or search on google.
(BBC iplayer has taken down the documentary for reasons unknown).

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One thought on “India’s Daughter: Interrupting the silence

  1. Blimey Soffi! A persuasive, rational and thoughtful argument. Well done you! I’m proud to know someone who knows you. xx

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