British filmmaker Leslee Udwin is in the eye of a controversy over her documentary on the December 2012 gang-rape in Delhi, India's Daughter, which features among other things an interview with Mukesh Singh, who was driving the bus in which the horrific crime took place.
The government moved to block the film worldwide with home minister Rajnath Singh telling Parliament he was "stunned and deeply hurt" when he heard about the controversial interview of one of the accused.
Rejecting a request from India not to telecast it, the BBC aired it in the UK from 3.30am Thursday India time. It was originally scheduled for March 8, International Women's Day.
Replying to a letter from Rakesh Singh, joint secretary in the information and broadcasting ministry, BBC Television director Danny Cohen wrote on Wednesday that after 'lengthy and careful consideration', the BBC had decided to telecast the film.
Home minister Singh had directed the BBC and the ministries of information and broadcasting, external affairs, and information technology to ensure Udwin's film was not broadcast or put on social platforms anywhere in the world, officials said.
Udwin on Wednesday talked to HT about reasons for making the documentary as well as her experience with sexual violence.
Q. What made you pick up on this particular crime as opposed to so many other horrific incidences that took place around the same time in other parts of the world?
The answer to that is very simple. It is because of the protests. No other country has seen protests in such unprecedented numbers. Had this happened in any other country I would have gone there.
Q. What specifically attracted you to this incident among so many others?
A. It was not the incident that motivated me. If this had happened anywhere else and such a groundswell of people had braved such unfriendly conditions to fight for the rights of women I would have gone there. I would have gone wherever that had happened. It was that which compelled... not impelled.... compelled me to come here.
Q. You have been here for two years now. What is the difference you notice in the behaviour of Indian men that stands out from other countries?
The first thing I notice is that anywhere I go on the streets as a woman, I am stared at. Not looked at... but really stared at. I got to the point where I used to stop and stare right back at them.
Q. How did this make you feel?
I was really angry at the men who did that. What gave them the right to treat me like that? You know.... as a pure object.
Q. Why do you think you felt like this?
Well, I have been raped. So, to be stared at in that objectifying manner by a man is very frightening, it is very unsettling.
Q. So, you felt unsafe while in Delhi?
I did feel unsafe. It was a huge relief every time I managed to get home.
Q. Let us talk about the documentary. How many people did you speak with for it?
A. I interviewed 28 people – I interviewed Sheila Dikshit. I interviewed 7 convicted rapists, but I filmed 5.
Q. Why show the rapist speaking about Nirbhaya?
A. Rape is mentality problem more than a personal problem. If you do not understand the psyche of the rapist and address that, how would you solve the problem?
Q. Why the decision to show the interview of the defence lawyers?
A. Well, I wanted to show all the characters that directly played a part in the Nirbhaya case and the lawyers were a definite part.
Q. But what does it achieve to show any of the ravings of defence advocates in the case?
A. What those lawyers say is not the lone voice – sadly. They are only an extreme expression of what is in the culture.
Q. Or they are just defence lawyers doing their jobs?
A. No they are not. Because they are talking about aspects of a society, they are talking about women in a particular way. They are not just saying 'she was out on the streets at a particular time, she was asking for it'. They are saying 'a woman is a flower, a man is thorn. A woman needs protection'. Excuse me? Who are you to tell me this?
Q. What do you think should happen to these lawyers you have depicted?
A. I think the lawyers who made the misogynist hate-filled statements against women in the documentary should be immediately dismissed.
Q. You say you spoke to 7 convicted rapists. But to keep the documentary balanced did you also seek out portraits of Indian men who have not been convicted – Indian male feminists, activists, ordinary men?
A. I interviewed as many as I could. I did speak to a blogger – Shivam Vij. In the end, he did not make it into the documentary as it were because I did not want to have too many characters and distract from the focus of the film. We had Kavita Krishnan. We spoke with Lenin Kumar, who spearheaded the movement. In the documentary, you see views from both sides. You see people for and against the death penalty. I am personally £120,000 in debt. I could not spend much and interview hundreds of people. But I tried to keep it concise and beautiful.
Q. What about the name India's daughter? Does not it reek of patriarchy?
A. Yes, but Nirbhaya was called India's Daughter by the press here, and we are not allowed to name her in India. Abroad, we are naming her because her father released her name and her name is in Wikipedia. But we could not call it by her name here. And we could not call it just Nirbhaya because what would an international audience have made of that? They cannot even pronounce it, let alone what it means.
Q. You do realise the people who made up that name and the narrative around the reporting of the crime against her were almost exclusively men?
A. (Nods in agreement) I see, I understand, I did not know that actually. Yes, I can see what you mean now. It is interesting because no one has asked this of me yet.
Q. What do you think of our home minister's comments...and Delhi Police's action against your film?
A. It is an attempt to block... an attempt to derail the film. It is very sad but it is hardly surprising, in any way. And it does not really worry me because this is a sick society. And look where the men are looking – they are looking in the wrong direction. They are looking to keep the status quo. They want to keep their power; they do not want women to be emancipated. So, of course, they react like this.
Q. Do you feel the documentary undermines the strides made by India since December 16?
A. No, I feel that is the wrong question to ask. This is a global problem because every society is sick with patriarchy. Of course, that is a major problem here, but also the world over. There is a patriarchal culture all over the world, and that is what we want to show.