Ban on film squanders gains Delhi made since Dec 16 gangrape tragedy

  • Shivani Singh, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Dec 11, 2015 15:04 IST

India’s Daughter, the controversial BBC documentary on the December 16 gangrape case, has been watched by many despite the government’s ban. Caught in a time warp, it probably didn’t occur to the authorities that we lived in the age of the internet and any film, documentary or show is just a download away.

Unlike Union parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu, many of us didn’t feel the film was “an international conspiracy to defame India”. It was difficult to justify the ‘worldwide’ ban on the documentary. That its screening could influence the case in which an appeal is pending before the Supreme Court was the only strong contention.

But this was certainly not a consideration when police filed a FIR and sought restraining orders from the court to stop the producers from airing the film. Instead, it was seeking to ban the film on the grounds that it “outraged the modesty of women and was an intentional insult to provoke breach of trust”.

Rape convict Mukesh Singh’s views on rape and women were shocking but not something we had not heard before. It was déjà vu time for those following the trial in the December 16 gang rape and more recently the Uber rape case.

Victim-blaming or rapesplaining is common across cultures. In 2011, a defence lawyer used the spider and the fly analogy to accuse an 11-yearold gang rape victim from Cleveland in Texas, USA, of being “a seductress who lured men to their doom”. Back in 1988, actor Jodie Foster’s The Accused — dramatisation of a real-life case — was probably the first mainstream Hollywood movie to deal with the issue of victim-blaming.

In India, rapes are often blamed on a victim’s clothes and behaviour, something that ought to happen “if a man consumes too much chow mein” or “shifts to an urban area”. But rapists should be pardoned because after all “boys make mistakes”. Often, these comments not only come from the rape accused or their families but top politicians and social leaders. So how did Mukesh Singh or his lawyer’s statement that “she asked for it” become so offensive that we had to ban the film?

Let’s face it: Delhi is unsafe for women. Last month, Mumbai filmmaker Sudhir Mishra cancelled shooting in Delhi, saying it was not safe for his female crew to work in the capital.

Personally, I thought that was a bit of an overreaction. But with a sex-crime record like ours, how can we blame outsiders for stereotyping Delhi as the “rape capital of India”?

Remarkably though, something unprecedented happened after the 23-year-old paramedic student suffered the unimaginable on December 16, 2012. The anger vented by thousands in Delhi — and subsequently across the country — from all walks of life was extraordinary in its spontaneity and intensity.

This moved the government to set up the Justice Verma committee, and redefine laws on safety of women based on its recommendations. Not including marital rape was the biggest oversight but as such the new clauses are at par with the most advanced in the world.

Reporting of rape cases saw a 32% jump in Delhi last year, thanks to the new law fixing police’s responsibility in registration and investigation of such cases. Rape is the horrible secret most women keep to themselves. Something must have changed to make women and their families feel emboldened to come out and seek help.

Banning the documentary flies in the face of that spirit — the churning that followed the December 16 tragedy, the way safety of women became part of the public discourse and figured prominently on election manifestos in Delhi’s last two polls. What we were slowly getting comfortable discussing at dinner tables are suddenly being termed “shameful and defamatory” again.

If we are embar rassed because it was a foreigner showing us the mirror, we owe Delhi’s braveheart more than that. Maybe, a mirror for each of us to ensure that the rapist has nowhere to hide.

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