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Banning “India’s Daughter”, an attempt to ban women in & out of India from the rape discourse

When we read about rape in India [or other developing worlds] we often see statistics of rape in America and other developed countries of the world on screen – either at the beginning or end of the film. America seems to have become a reference point to rape in the “third world’ countries. Many directors [and writers] say there are far more rapes occurring in America than in India. New York Times and other newspapers, as well as websites do a good job of reminding us of this when articles about rape are published. Recently, another film gave numbers on rape in America and elsewhere, too.
At the end of Udwin’s film, we read the following statistics on rape:
  • Since the rape of India’s Daughter reporting has increased by 35%.
  • Australia: 35% women sexually assaulted only 15% reported to police
  • Canada: over 1 in 3 women sexually assaulted and only 6% reported to police
  • Democratic republic of Congo: more than 400,000 women raped each year
  • Denmark: only 1 in 5 reported rapes results in conviction
  • Egypt: 96% of women have suffered genital mutilation
  • Ethiopia: 60% women subjected to sexual violence
  • France: 1 in 10 women is a victim of domestic violence
  • Nigeria: 10 out of 36 states have laws that allow husbands to use physical forces against their wives
  • South Africa: a woman is raped very 26 seconds
  • Sri Lanka: an average rape case takes 6-12 years to be resolved
  • United Kingdom: 33% girls between 13-17 have experienced sexual violence
  • USA: 17.7 million women have been raped

Udwin traveled to India to make India’s Daughter, where she and an all Indian crew interviewed the following: rapists [Mukesh Singh; Ram Singh, Vinay Sharma, Pawan Gupta, Akshay Thakur and the juvenile]; Sharma – attorney for the rapists; Leila Seth – former chief justice member of the rape committee; Dr Maria Misra- writer & historian at Oxford; Sandeep Govil – psychiatrist for the rapists, and other speakers from the rapists’ village.  India’s Daughter (Leslee Udwin, 2015) is an impassioned plea for justice following the rape of Jyoti Singh, the young medical student, who was brutally raped by 6 men in December 2012 then dumped naked onto the streets and who died 17 excruciating days later.

But the great difference in reporting rape in America vs rape in India is that rape in America is NOT tinged with shame, or the desire to commit suicide or silence or all three. A girl is “not” damaged for life, and can often do well in life with therapy and help, and more importantly rapists are jailed, humiliated at times appearing on registries of sex offenders digitally and barred from living near schools etc. And the self-imposed silence in some parts of America when rape isn’t reported is a different silence than the forced silence which exists in India & other worlds. Silence is used to force girls to go silent in India and the shame and blame hang over these girls, their families and entire village forever.  In America, however, decades of feminism and discussions on sexual assault on campuses and in the military have extinguished the silence and shame associated with rape. There are outreach programs in poor communities, in emergency rooms, at police stations etc and are all working to encourage reporting and penalizing rapists. In the USA, we engage with victims on a very different level than in India, because advocacy efforts and rape crisis centers ALL give the same message: come forward and report.

The result of removing the shaming, slut shaming, silencing from violence and rape in the US makes for a more confident and comfortable, accurate and realistic reporting on sexual assault. It is no longer a question of one woman fighting against a whole country, village, town or society and family, as it is in India. There is no lone Suneetha Krishnan or Leslee Udwin showing the world a door to change, or who are opening up dialogue on the urgent and dire situation of women raped and abused in India. But, Jyoti Singh’s rape was NOT the first high profile rape in India – the 1972 Mathura rape which called and ed to legal reform and laid groundwork for development of the protest constituency that filled Delhi’s political corridor from Rastrapati Bhawan to India Gate that December which ultimately turned into a war zone of tear gas, lathi strikes and police violence [Sonia Faleiro “India’s Daughter review- this film does what the politicians should be doing” The Guardian 5 March 2015].  Despite the legal change of the Mathura case and the massive Ferguson-like protests in India and neighboring countries after Jyoti’s rape, some prevalent opinions in India’s Daughter [which appear in the order they are pronounced in film] explain the mentality ‘still’ surrounding rape and women’s status in parts of India:

  • Rapist Mukesh: it takes 2 hands to clap. A good girl doesn’t roam around 9 at night. Girl far more responsible for rape than boy
  • Defense lawyer Sharma: the moment she [Jyoti] came out with a boy who was neither husband nor brother she left her reputation and morality as a doctor as well as a girl’s morality also in the house and she came out just like a “woman”
  • Mukesh: boy and girl not equal. Housework & housekeeping for girls. Not roaming in discos and bars at nights, doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of these girls are good
  • Sharma: a female is just like a flower. It gives a good looking very softness performance, pleasant (sic). But on the other hand a man is just like a thorn. Strong, tough enough. That flower always needs protection. If you put that flower in a gutter, it will be spoilt. If you put that flower in a temple, it will be worshipped
  • Sharma: she was with an unknown boy who took her on a date. In our society we never allow our girls to come out of the house after 6.30 or 8.30 in the evening with any unknown person
  • Sharma: they left our Indian culture. They were under imagination of the filmy culture in which they can do anything
  • Sharma: she shouldn’t be put in the streets just like food. The ‘lady’ on the other hand, you can say the ‘girl’ or ‘woman’ more precious than a gem, than a diamond. It is up to you how you want to keep that diamond in your hand. If you put your diamond on the street, certainly the dog will take it out. You can’t stop it
  • Sharma: you are talking about man and woman as friends. Sorry that doesn’t have any place in our society. A woman means I immediately put the sex in his eyes (sic). We have the best culture. In our culture, there is no place for a woman
  • Govil: the main mental set-up is “it’s our right. We are just in enjoyment mode. And everybody has a right to enjoyment. Big people, you know, somebody who has money, do it by payment. We have the courage so we do it by our courage”
  • Dr Misra: before this event there was a very very strong culture of shame around rape. To be raped was deeply shaming. Worse than being dead. So there’re politicians who say the most extraordinary things about rape victims. That it would be better if the raped victim dies otherwise she’d be a walking corpse
  • Mukesh: 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.
  • Raj Kumar – patrolman – who found their bodies and went to the motel opposite and got a bed sheet to cover her and water. About 30-35 men gathered but no one helped. He asked for help but no one helped. Kumar said Jyoti looked like a cow (holy in Hinduism) after it had Given birth to a calf [because her intestines were out of her body].
  • Nurse Rashmi Ahuja, reporting in English: she was bleeding a lot from vagina. 1130pm. She was scared but not sobbing; she clearly described everything in clear detail. She was slapped on face, kicked on abdomen. Multiple injuries over her, over her private parts. There were multiple bite marks over her face, over her lips, over her limbs
  • The surgeon told Jyoti’s mother he’d been practicing for 20 years and had never seen a case like this. “The system by which the main body functions is all gone. We don’t know which parts to join”
  • Leila Seth: lots of Gang rapes in India. It was a normal time for a boy and girl to be returning from movies (8pm) in the capital
  • Seth: equality is in the constitution, but men feel they have a right, from tradition
  • Akshay’s [one of the rapists] wife: will you hang all rapists? Who will protect their wives and children?

Statements which makes rape possible and continue to occur:

  • when a girl is with a boy, she aggravated the boys
  • if she’s alone, she aggravated the boys
  • Or it’s her clothes that caused the rape: jeans, saris, salwar kameez. How then does one explain raping a 4 year old in Ghansaur in April 2013 or the 6 year old in Ahmedabad in March 2015? How did these girls provoke boys to rape them? Where were they when raped? They couldn’t possibly be wearing ‘trashy’ clothes at 4 or 6.
  • And if a girl ‘should get protection from boys’ in lieu of her parents to go to the bathroom, with whom should she go to the public restrooms or shop or movies if the boys are the ones to rape her?

India’s Daughter lets people speak in the film. Do those who speak – like Sharma – define India? Are these the representatives who set boundaries for India? If they are, there’s no difference between these ‘cultural ambassadors’ and rapists. It is these ambassadors and rapists who killed the perfect dream of Jyoti’s parents. India’s daughter is not just a film, but current India where women’s rights are abrogated to men. But the film is banned in India, because it is an ‘international conspiracy’ according to parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu, and because censorship likes to perpetuate views that cannot withstand the scrutiny of reason. What is not banned is another video by Annapurna Sunkura on India’s Daughter before a global audience. Sunkura’s video pays tribute to the inspiring and remarkable Jyoti Singh and also explores the compelling stories behind the incident and the political ramifications throughout India for an Indian public. And most of all it CANNOT be banned in India like India’s Daughter:

What comes out of visuals like India’s Daughter and Sunkara’s video is that when rape is compared to America, it is left unaddressed where it matters – in India. That America has the highest incidence of rape per capita is not the problem nor the solution to India’s’ rape crisis. Comparing India’s rape to America’s rape is only detracting India and its government/ filmmakers/ other speakers from the serious crime of rape in India.  Women in India have no voice or affirmative action, as in America. Not naming the 17 year old and referring to him as ‘juvenile’ is also skirting the issue. In India where shaming and naming isn’t news, why does everyone in Udwin’s films say ‘the juvenile’? Jyoti’s name was Nirbhaya before we knew her real name but many knew her real name online way before it hit the airwaves, so why couldn’t this ‘juvie’ be given a name? Why is everyone protecting this juvie who was skilled in luring people in the bus, and brought alcohol in the bus and one of the rapists who repeatedly raped Jyoti. It is time for the language of modesty and shame to be removed from the Indian penal code for change to sink in, and for women to come forth and report acts of inhumanity.


2 Comments

  1. Rhett says:

    What makes this problem so challenging is, it seems, the fact that it is largely a cultural one, as you make clear. How does one go about changing cultural perceptions of women and gender roles that have defined Indian family culture for hundreds of generations? It is extremely difficult. The quotes you highlight from the rapists are deeply disturbing but not in the least surprising given the patriarchal cultural environment they were raised in. Women as commodities to be purchased (marriage), used for men’s pleasure (rape) and, if she complains, its because she deserved it, she “had it coming” because she had the temerity to leave her home after dark or to appear in public unaccompanied by a male relative. These are the kinds of culturally-based justifications we have become accustomed to hearing in India as well as the Arab countries, Iran, Afghan, etc…
    Perhaps even more disturbing however is the fact that so many Indian women justify the use of violence by men against women. Last year, a survey found that 74% of Indian WOMEN said that a man had every right to beat his wife for disobedience. The fact that 3/4 of Indian women have internalized this aspect of their patriarchy, and come to accept it, only shows how deeply rooted the patriarchy is.

    • Yes, sadly yes! It takes a lifetime of undoing and even when one’s undone it one’s cast out. One cannot go against or you have what’s happening right now re dissent. the dissent of intellectuals in and out of India – all Indian where India’s right wing – modi as head of that & his henchmen and up keepers of caste-ism etc – will have you removed or killed. Yep! The world’s largest democracy they say. Where women are trained, forced, controlled to see thru the eyes of men whom you mention here. They shiver at the thought of going against! Or they lot is to commit suicide or forever stay silent. What you hear in the interview in India’s daughter is but a needle in a haystack problem. But alas! We must write, talk, blog, tweet them into shame. It’s but a drop in a bucket but eventually the bucket fills up.

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