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‘India’s Daughter’s Says it as it is, Strips ‘us’ of Our Illusions

March 9, 2015 · 

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by Seema Mustafa for TheCitizen.in

candleNEW DELHI: “Her name was Jyoti Singh, we are happy to reveal it. She lit a torch for not just India but for the world, but in her death she also left a question, what does it mean to be a woman?” Words of wisdom from the young girl’s father Badri Singh at the end of a beautiful, poignant documentary by Leslee Udwin, a journalistic feat that brings through all aspects of the brutal gang rape of the young girl in a moving bus.

The political storm in Parliament, the government’s hurry to ban the film, the police court order to prevent it from being telecast reveals the same approach that led to the rape of the young girl whose parents want her name to be remembered, and not hidden under pseudonyms.

Shut it all up, cover it with layers and layers of morality, and create an illusion that India is a tolerant society, that the men are good chaps, and rape is only because the women are moving out of cultural mores and breaking tradition. In short, rape is an aberration that can be corrected if women go back to being “women” ,wear proper clothes, do not go out at night, and behave. They will then not be raped.

Any number of India’s elected representatives have said as much in and outside the legislatures in the past, as have political leaders, insisting that if women wore “decent” clothes and did not go out in the evening they would be secure. And hence the furore in Parliament was only to be expected, with MPs screaming themselves hoarse about a film without even seeing it. The Opposition wanted to know how permission had been given to interview the rapist, the government said it would institute an enquiry, and this was thus the ploy used to stop the documentary from being screened for the Indians. BBC has telecast it, and the film will be shown in New York with movie stars like Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in attendance.

For they know what the Indian political class, along with of course different sections of society want to hide. That rape is increasing in India, and what is worse it is being justified. And this is happening because women are still regarded as a commodity, as a possession with no rights or status. And as the second defence lawyer for the rapists said, women are like a beautiful flower and men like the thorn to protect them. And again that women are like diamonds, but if they are put on the streets, then of course the dogs will get them. And here the dogs got young Jyoti, but since she was out at night with a male friend she deserved it!

The documentary has really three visible protagonists, two are the parents of the young girl and the third is the rapist Mukesh. The parents bring in the progressive argument, bolstered by many voices in the film, and despite being from a traditional family have —as Jyoti’s tutor says— a mentality that is modern and forward looking. Through them the film traces her story, of her childhood, her aspirations, the suffering after the rape, the death. And in the process paints the parents as this amazing couple breaking societal mores right from her birth: first by celebrating the birth of a girl child and then selling land to ensure that she could realise her dream of becoming a doctor. It was a family that was proud of Jyoti, shared a very close relationship based on trust, confidence and respect. Her mother holds back tears saying that while Jyoti lived to see them before her death, it still rankles that we could not do anything for her. And jyoti just before she died held her mothers hand, kissed it and shared that woman’s moment with her, apologising for bringing her so much grief.

The rapist is just one of the thousand faces one sees every day. And perhaps this is the strongest statement in the documentary. That he does not have the horns that society has grown on his head, to basically convince ourselves that he is different, a maniac, and nothing like anyone we know. That in appearance he is similar to any one on the streets, and yet he along with his friends behaved like a complete monster. The film goes into the slums to capture the kind of upbringing he has had, living in deep poverty, in inhuman conditions, and living with alcohol and violence. There is no attempt to justify the rape, or exonerate the rapists, instead to perhaps spell out through the jail psychiatrist that these chaps are normal with heightened anti social traits. As he says there are many out there not yet arrested, and even in the prison there are those who have committed 200 rapes and are being tried for just a handful. In fact 200 is the number they remember, the figure he says could be far more.

India’s Daughter, a powerful documentary, thus rips through the veneer of comfort we have built around ourselves for while the government and the police is at fault, society certainly is blameless. The voice of the bystander who brought a sheet from a nearby hotel to cover the naked bodies of the young girl and her friend as they lay bleeding on the road documents the fact that there were at least 35 persons standing around the young people, and not even came forward to help. The voice of the defence lawyer points out that there are “at least 250” legislators with rape charges against them, why are they not being brought to book. The rapist Mukesh talks of other heinous rapes and asks why different standards are being applied to them, all should be punished according to the law. And while clearly without remorse or even a conscience, points out that death by hanging will ensure that others after them will kill the girls they rape. “Death” he says with blank eyes, like a robot.

The Citizen supports the message(s) Leslee Udwin has tried to bring out through this sensitive documentary and asks the government and the opposition parties to take a closer look and at this media report and take action under the law of the land: “a video has surfaced where a supporter of BJP leader Yogi Adityanath delivers a speech saying they should dig out dead bodies of Muslim women and rape them. In a high-pitched vitriol the unnamed supporter also holds forth statements like Muslims’ voting rights must be taken away and how this is important for the creation of Hindu rashtra.

While on one hand Yogi Adityanath shared the stage and listened in, on March 2 he said, “Hindus are liberal in nature and therefore the country is also liberal, and Muslims are safer in India than anywhere else in the world,” at Virat Hindu Samavesh in Hubli, Karnataka.”

Again a travesty of justice, and as India’s Daughter brings home so clearly, rape is encouraged by men in powerful positions with their hogwash arguments, and by the system of impunity that governments have institutionalised over the decades. It is also fed into by our lack of concern for poverty, where those who live in the backwaters of urban cities fall outside the realm of policies and plans.

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