Decisions made in the wake of a popular outcry over emotive and sensitive issues will invariably be wrong. The government’s action in getting a court order restraining the telecast of the documentary, India’s Daughter , by the British film-maker Leslee Udwin, is a knee-jerk response to the outrage voiced by sections of society against what they call giving undue publicity to a convict’s views. While the film-maker notes that she had a ‘no objection’ letter from the Home Ministry and obtained permission from the Tihar Jail authorities to interview the convict, the police have registered an FIR after it became known that the documentary is to be aired by a television news channel on March 8, coinciding with International Women’s Day. The work has been banned from public viewing for the sole reason that it contains some repugnant comments by the convict, blaming the victim for the rape and murder. A moot question is whether it is unethical to disseminate the views of a convict, even those as abhorrent as those of Mukesh Singh; and whether banning the reporting of such views is the right response. True, it will be morally repulsive and abominable to hear the convict justifying his horrific crime by blaming the victim and saying she could have survived had she not resisted rape. But it is equally true that there is some public interest in recording such views and airing them in such a way that it does not glorify, but makes them repugnant. Actually, the documentary may even help the public recognise and counter such thought processes in society.
As the documentary is yet to be aired, it may be unfair to prejudge its approach and the level of its success in its being, in Ms. Udwin’s words, ‘an impassioned plea for gender equality’. To presume that it will only strengthen the rapist’s mindset may derail any effort to create a sensitive record of what the country needs — a conscious transition from a culture of tolerance towards gender violence to a progressive socio-legal structure that combats the phenomenon. India now has stronger and better-defined laws; there is greater sensitivity among investigators, prosecutors and judges, but the scope for genuine transformation lies in the larger domain — the attitude and approach of society at large. Documentaries such as this may serve to advance this purpose, and even if they fail to do so, the solution is not to ban such efforts. For they may help confront the culture of rape and the widely seen phenomenon of public figures, officials and politicians conforming to the patriarchal mindset that is at the core of gender violence in India. The documentary should be seen as holding a mirror unto a society that is far from being sensitive to gender issues.