Most people I know have rubbished the arguments for banning the BBC documentary on the Nirbhaya rape and, instinctively, they are right to do so. However, in this instance, it’s worth examining the handful of moral reasons for a ban as well as the one legal reason a little carefully so we’re sure our instinct is right.
There are three moral reasons. First, it’s said the documentary provides Mukesh, the rapist, a platform from which he can explain and contextualise his behaviour and, thus, make it appear explicable rather than monstrous and beyond comprehension. That could portray him in an improved light.
Perhaps and, for some, possibly. But do you really believe most viewers will sympathise with the rapist? To assume they will is to hold the Indian people in very low esteem. I certainly don’t.
The second moral reason arises from the fact the film has views that are reprehensible and gives graphic details of the rape which are unsettling and, therefore, the young and the impressionable must not be exposed to this. It’s an adult film and its general release on television or on the internet, which the young and even children can access, would be unwise.
This is, arguably a more plausible argument but it overlooks the fact the young, including children, have a clear idea of right and wrong. Why would they be influenced by the rapist rather than by Nirbhaya’s parents and their heart-rendingly emotional testimony?
The third moral argument, which was cited by the police when they sought a ban, is that the contents of the documentary could lead to law and order problems. It hasn’t and I’d say that entirely negates the argument.
Now, there is one powerful moral reason for showing the film. The attitude to women and rape that it reveals reflects the thinking of tens of millions of Indians. If we want to change their thinking one way could be through the realisation that they think like rapists. It might not work but, surely, it’s worth trying?
Finally, the legal reason for banning or, at least, delaying broadcast. The Supreme Court is still considering the appeal against conviction and the death sentence. Could the film undermine or vitiate that process? Only if you believe Supreme Court judges will be influenced by its content to the extent of changing their opinion. I don’t.
More importantly, the saturation coverage in the media is something they already have access to. If that does not sway them why would the documentary?
Let me end by asking the government a question. It’s one they should think about carefully before responding. If Nirbhaya’s parents want the film to be shown — and they are, after all, the most affected — why has the government taken a contrarian view? Her father believes the documentary holds up a mirror to society. Her mother says it reveals the monstrous behaviour of the rapists. And both were happy to name their daughter, which they did.
India is not shamed by this documentary, even though it reveals the most ghastly side of our thinking. Strong nations admit their faults and struggle to correct them.
However, India is injured by the ban. It suggests an attempt to hide a reality we don’t know how to contend with. That’s not true of the people of our country. The protests in December 2012 proved otherwise. But I suspect it’s true of the government. Actually, of our entire political class because this time the Opposition doesn’t differ.
The views expressed by the author are personal.