iconimg Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Jyoti Sharma Bawa, Hindustan Times
New Delhi, March 05, 2015
The year was 2005. A cub reporter then, I was returning after interviewing a politician in Lutyen's Delhi. It was getting late, 9 to be precise, and with no auto in sight, I and the photographer decided to flag a passing chartered bus. As I stepped on the bus, I saw there were just four men on it. Before the photographer could board, the driver suddenly accelerated. Scared out of my wits, I just jumped off. The bus didn't stop but the raucous laughter of people on the bus still rings in my ears.

Probably every woman in India has faced that fear and much worse, and the impotent anger that comes with it. Seven years later, I could still feel the terror of that moment as I read about the Delhi Braveheart. She could not escape her brutal tormentors, but even as she died in a Singapore hospital, she lit a flame. And that's the reason why India's Daughter needs to be watched - to ensure the debate and public discourse her death inflamed should continue.

The film -- which documents the brutal gang-rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in December 2012 that galvanised the nation - has been blocked after a court injunction was secured. A "stunned" home minister also promised action against the documentary by Leslee Udwin even as BBC4 brought forward the film's telecast. The film has also been uploaded on YouTube.

It will be watched - as every banned film is. The film chills you and makes you tear up all over again as the Braveheart's parents talk about their extraordinary daughter and the golden future which awaited her. We have seen them on our TV screens as the case unfolded but this time, they are talking about those little details which make the humdrum real life.

Her punishing 18 to 20-hour workday where she used to attend medical school during the day and work at night at a call centre to ramp up her family's meager income. Her request to her mother that she wants to go and watch Life of Pi before her internship started the next day. The family which celebrated their daughter as much as their sons and even sold off their land to ensure she realised her dream of becoming a doctor. Their shared dream of a good future which they had almost realised before it was so cruelly snatched away. "Akhri baar jab hum usse hospital me mile to usne haath mein haath liya, chuma or bola, 'sorry mummy, humne apko bahut takleef diya," says her crying mother about the Braveheart's last moments. 

The general public is aware of what the unrepentant Mukesh Singh, one of the prime accused in the case, said in the documentary but it was the lawyers of the accused who really frighten you. All of them reportedly pin it on the victim - how she overstepped her limits by going out late in the evening accompanied by a boy who was not a blood relative.

One of the defence lawyers, ML Sharma, reportedly says that India has the best culture and there is no place in it for friendship between men and women. He also goes on to say how in India, women are not allowed to go outside after 7 or 8. He likens women to flowers which are worshipped when in temple but are spoiled in a gutter.
 
Another defence lawyer AP Singh echoes his sentiments and adds if a girl has to go out, she should go out only with their relatives and not boyfriend. He is the same man who had earlier said he would set his daughter/sister on fire if she had a premarital relationship.

This is a theme which is echoed over and over again during the documentary - it was not a rape, it was a lesson taught for stepping outside the confines of 'Indian culture'. The accused, the lawyer even their families repeat that women should dress, behave, act in a certain way and stay in the confines of home. And if they step out, they are answerable for all that ensues.

"She went out to watch a film with a friend. Is that a crime?" asks the Braveheart's tutor. In India, apparently, it is. This refusal of the Indian society to accept the new, emancipated woman is the subtext that drives this insightful documentary. A long list of experts discuss how rapes, acid attacks, domestic and sexual violence is the result of an India caught between modernity and tradition, patriarchy and the new woman who is breaching the narrow boundaries the society has made for her.

The focus is as much on showing how the accused are the products of their environment - a slum in Delhi where amidst poverty and violence, patriarchy is at its strongest.

The accused thought they had shamed the couple enough. They probably never thought the case will even reach the police. So, despite the deep social chasm that separates them, the way those five men thought is no different from the bizarre comments people in power have expressed about rape victims.

Ironically, this was the case that started the process of shredding that veil of shame. It started that chilly December two years ago when India came out and demanded that women be treated as equals and justice must be delivered. And that debate needs, no asks, to be taken forward because there is no other alternative if we want India's daughters to be respected.