Yes, Leslee Udwin’s documentary has shamed us. Not on the point made by Meenakshi Lekhi in Parliament where she said the film will affect tourism. Definitely not. But, it has shamed Indian journalism — that is, us. Why did none of us do it? Why, when all the material is right under our envy-ridden noses, did we not pick up the potential of putting it together to tell the full story?
The documentary is not a patronising white woman’s sermon to India. It is a tribute to India’s youth who poured out on the streets, without a leader, to brave lathi-charges and water cannons, to demand the overthrow of old mindsets. And what better way to expose widespread, entrenched machismo beliefs than to show convicted rapist Mukesh Singh’s views justifying his actions. This shows their brutality did not emanate from a drunken night where they were not aware of what they were doing. All the gut-wrenching savagery they lashed on Jyoti Singh on December 16, came from the cultural position that they had a right to do what they did, the girl asked for it and deserved what she got.
Questions often asked after Jyoti Singh’s rape were: How could human beings be so heinous? How could they be so inhuman? What triggered the animal-like behaviour where they even pulled out her intestines? The mental space the rapists came from remained a mystery. Until now. This documentary lays bare Hannah Arendt’s famous theory — ‘the banality of evil’. Arendt wrote it in her report in The New Yorker in 1961, when she was sent to cover the Nuremberg Trials. This was followed by her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.
‘So if a crime against humanity had become in some sense “banal” it was precisely because it was committed in a daily way, systematically, without being adequately named and opposed. In a sense, by calling a crime against humanity “banal”, she was trying to point to the way in which the crime had become for the criminals accepted, routinised, and implemented without moral revulsion and political indignation and resistance.’ (http://tinyurl.com/prmx8u8)
Accepted — this we see in Mukesh Singh’s comments when he espouses what the majority of Indian men think. It is acceptable to rape a woman. Routinised — every 20 minutes a woman is raped in India. What could be more routine? Implemented without moral revulsion — clear that Mukesh Singh has no remorse. In fact, he feels victimised that many other rapes have been committed that didn’t get the attention or the sentence he received.
In the film, Mukesh Singh’s lawyers spout endorsements to suggest that women out at night are asking to be raped. One goes so far as to say he would take his daughter to a public place, douse her with petrol and burn her alive if she crossed the social boundaries he set for her. Let’s accept this fact. The views that Mukesh Singh expresses have already been expressed by a long list of men and women in political power and official positions. When these men and women make these pronouncements, they are coming from the same cultural mental space as Mukesh Singh. They are saying what is ‘normal’ in their lives. What is banal for them is outrageous for a now growingly aware public who will not accept destructive tradition. It used to be normal and banal for Thakurs in villages to grab any lower-caste woman for their pleasure. Bhanwari Devi, from Bhateri village, Rajasthan, broke the mould when she took action against those who gang-raped her in September 1992. Not that it has brought about a complete change in those men who still believe it is their entitlement. But the change was visible after December 16, when not only in Delhi, but across the country, conscience-driven men and women raised a single voice against such entrenched acceptability for rape.
In what should be considered a glaring strategic miscalculation, the Congress ordered the police to go after the peaceful protestors with lathi-charges and water cannons. This was not a controversial political issue. It was a human issue of women’s protection. Until the police started the violence, the protestors were not actually protesting against the government. They were protesting against a barbaric rape and wanted assurance that the rapists would not go unpunished. By ordering the police to become bloodhounds, they succeeded in making the issue against the government.
Could the film give ideas to men that it’s okay to rape and better to kill the woman so she cannot give evidence, as stated by Mukesh Singh in the film? You’re not serious. A man who is serving a life sentence with the possibility of being hanged is going to inspire men to rape and kill? That is a stretch. It is the Delhi Police that asked for the ban of the film. Why? Because they are afraid that all that they did was caught on cameras and will not make them look good. But, if they saw the film, the police come across as conducting exemplary detective work in bringing the culprits to book in record time.
Why, then, has this government fallen prey to such demands to censor? The BJP was not in government then. It shows up the ineptness of the Congress at that crucial time. It would be to their advantage to show this film. But, censorship is a disease that comes attached to those who come to power. How successful is the ban when we can all watch it on the Internet anyway? Without seeing the film, banning it is the most mindless and extraordinarily stupid thing to do. After Narendra Modi’s ground breaking statement in his speech at Red Fort on August 15, asking parents to rein in their sons and to ask their sons the controlling questions they ask their daughters, one expected more from this government.
Back to Arendt — ‘So if a crime against humanity had become in some sense “banal” it was precisely because it was committed in a daily way, systematically, without being adequately named and opposed.’ This film exposes the banality of rape in India. Without exposing this mentality, adequately naming it, how can we oppose it? The BJP has made the same mistake the Congress made after December 16. They presumed that questioning the system means it is against the establishment. But, they should have realised, this does not question the political system. It questions the social system. Our prime minister attacked the social system in his speech. This film does the same thing. The BJP should have adopted this film, translated it into regional languages and shown it across the country. They would be only pushing the agenda the prime minister has set and people want, particularly women. The banality of those in power never fails to amaze.