Wednesday 4th March saw the premiere of India’s Daughter, the documentary voicing the gang rape, disembowelment and murder of Jyoti Singh that took place in Delhi on 16th December 2012 at 8pm on a bus, whilst she was on her way home from the cinema with a male friend. The documentary, originally set to be aired on March 8th - coinciding with International Women’s Day – was brought forwards in the UK due to the Indian authorities injunction that banned its broadcast in India. Its director, Leslee Udwin, asserts that ‘India is a democracy with civilised laws, but sadly this flouting of a basic right to freedom of speech is flying in the face of civilised values.’
This act of arbitrary censorship merely conceals the issue that lies at the very foundation of Indian society; that when a woman is raped, accountability rests on her own shoulders. This is exemplified in the response of Mukesh Singh, who played a predominant role in Jyoti’s rape and murder, when confronted with his crime; “a decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy.” This attitude towards women exemplifies the systemic rape culture prevalent in India, and is the product of poor education, centuries of patriarchal power, violence, poverty and female impurity, whose perpetuation the Indian authorities must be held responsible for.
Tweets both in favour of and disreputing the ban were rife on Wednesday; one read ‘does rape only happen in India? It is an attempt to malign India on a global platform.’ While this view is correct in identifying that rape is a problem on a global scale, what isn’t mirrored worldwide, however, is the ignominious attitudes towards women that are deeply embedded in Indian culture. The way in which rape is dealt with in India; the defilement and dishonouring that is part and parcel of every rape victim’s experience, is the very problem at the root of Indian society that needs to be addressed by the Government of India.
Such a defensive response to India’s Daughter, which concedes to the statement made by the Indian Parliamentary Affairs Minister, M. Venkaiah Naidu, that it was part of an ‘international conspiracy to defame India’, is grossly iniquitous. Instead, the documentary calls upon India to consult its attitude towards rape and its deeply engrained culture of female oppression. Kavita Krishnan, in her attempt to highlight notions of ‘Otherness’ and the ‘civilising mission’ that she suggests Unwin’s depiction of rape in India portrays, crucially misses the point; her argument that the unapologetic misogyny represented by the rapists throughout the documentary is only the mind-set of the minority in India is deeply deluded. Instead, this viewpoint is profoundly entrenched in Indian society, and the legal prohibition against the documentary further elucidates this in its attempt to preserve the patriarchal status quo.
Why are the authorities in India attempting to silence the grim realities of Indian society? And more importantly, why are people excusing this? They need to accept that India is different; the structures of caste, gender, class and the state all collude in creating and perpetuating gender violence, yet there is no acceptance of accountability in the preservation of this systemic rape culture. Of further concern are the educated men who defend the accused, protecting their rights as civilians and justifying their actions; M. L. Sharma, defence lawyer of Mukesh Singh, told The Times of India,
“If you keep sweets in the street then dogs will come and eat them. Why did Jyoti’s parents send her with anyone that late in the night? He was not her boyfriend. Is it not the parents’ responsibility to keep an eye on where she goes and with whom?”
Prevalent in his interview throughout the documentary is his attempt to alleviate the culpability of his client in the incident, inciting blame on Jyoti herself, further absolving Indian society, culture, and ultimately, the Indian Authorities, of blame for her rape and murder.
The title of the documentary, ‘India’s Daughter’, as writer for Quartz Annalisa Marelli has suggested, is a quintessentially patriarchal label; India cannot claim to have birthed Jyoti Singh when her aspirations, her self-worth and her vigour were all stamped upon by the state. Conversely, the five men who brutally raped, disembowelled and murdered Jyoti Singh, are the embodiment of India’s sons, the product of patriarchal power in India, for which the Indian authorities must take responsibility for perpetuating. Silencing this documentary is merely another attempt to suppress critique of the gender inequality prevalent in Indian society, within which the government must incite change, or be held accountable not only for the gut-wrenching reality of Jyoti’s death, but for quotidian violence against women.
Header Image: Protest over The Delhi Gang Rape, Rights; Nilroy