Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Is ban on Udwin's "India's Daughter" justified?

I haven’t seen Leslee Udwin’s documentary “India’s Daughter”, which now finds mired in a controversy, but I had a chance to see snippets of the documentary and meet Leslee at the TEDX talk last weekend.

In her talk, Leslee precisely highlighted the sensationalised part of her work. She shows the rapist Mukesh Singh saying without remorse: “You can’t clap with one hand – it takes two hands. A decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night. A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy. Boy and girl are not equal. Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes. About 20% of girls are good.”

She also spoke about how daunting it was to make the documentary, the pain of parting from her young family for two years, and, how at one point when things just didn’t go right, she almost felt like giving up and return home, but her daughter (over phone) encouraged her to stay by saying “ I and my generation of girls are relying on you”.

 Leslee spoke passionately about the issue of gender inequality, which she described as “cancer” and myriad of other very serious issues related to it like patriarchy, killing of girl child, honour killing, and acid attacks, trafficking. She said gender equality was the only solution.

There is unmistakably no doubt about the fact that Leslee stands for women’s right and equality, but what's problematic the way she went on to talk about her documentary.

Apart from the quote above, she also quoted the defence lawyer A. P Singh, who  said,  If my daughter or sister engaged in pre-marital activities and disgraced herself and allowed herself to lose face and character by doing such things, I would most certainly take this sort of sister or daughter to my farmhouse, and in front of my entire family, I would put petrol on her and set her alight

Clearly abhorring and sickening statements, but what do you expect a defence lawyer and a rape convict to say? There is no denying that there is a problem with men think in India but it is a section of the population not the entire country. Offenders, all over the world, tend not to show remorse about their horrifying actions.

Leslee’s over emphasis on the two quotes above to highlight her documentary coupled with excessive PR was another cause why the documentary stands banned by the court of law in India.  It undermined the fact that her purpose was not entirely commercial. If it was being shown on NDTV and BBC, and that some international papers were already taking about it what was the need of press conferences and her obsession to get as many journalists as possible. This contributed in getting the attention of the home minister. Personally, I just disliked her ruthless campaign – it looked as if she was hell bent in getting some sort of mileage out of it.

The other issue is raking up the December 16, 2012 rape issue once again. For heaven’s sake leave the family of the victim alone.

 It will also be wrong to assume that as if there was no concern about rape in India before December 2012. I have closely analysed two national Indian newspapers and Western newspapers to understand the narrative of rape going backwards two years before the unfortunate rape took place on 16 December 2012.

If you look at the The Hindu and The Times of India; there was already a momentum building up by activists and the Indian media since 2010 to recognise that there is a problem of rape- 16 December 2012 was the last straw.

On the other hand, many Western media simply went overboard in their reporting to vilify the “rape culture” in the country comparing it with Sati and other practices (The Times). I felt Jason Burke’s epicarticle in The Guardian was the only comprehensive piece that built up a picture to the problem for the foreign audience.

I personally work with the Western media, and I know that India is an open ground for journalists. Doing stories in India is far easier than any country in the world. Here we get what we want. People let us into their homes.  Could Leslee have made a similar documentary in her own country? Questions must also be asked how she got access- the fault also lies with the Indian authorites. 

There have been many horrifying instances of abuse in the world, like for example, an 80-year-old Austrian father man who wasaccused of locking up his daughters and raping them over a period of more than40 years a few years back. Could anyone interview him?

There is no denying that there is a problem in India the way women are treated but it not in all states. What about the northeast India?  I support Leslee’s passion and her campaign. Since I have not seen the documentary, I cannot comment much, but if her documentary is about what she is highlighting, it is needless and not very tasteful.