Wishing away India’s culture of rape

Leslee Udwin’s documentary needs to be aired and watched so that we do not continue to misdiagnose the roots of sexual violence and focus on fixing the wrong things

Updated - April 02, 2016 07:41 am IST

Published - March 05, 2015 01:57 am IST

Illustration: Satwik Gade

Illustration: Satwik Gade

In an interview shortly after the release of his book In Cold Blood , Truman Capote said of the motives of one of the two killers whose stories the book told: “I believe Perry did what he did for the reasons he himself states — that his life was a constant accumulation of disillusionments and reverses and he suddenly found himself (in the Clutter house that night) in a psychological cul-de-sac. The Clutters were such a perfect set of symbols for every frustration in his life. As Perry himself said, ‘I didn’t have anything against them, and they never did anything wrong to me — the way other people have all my life. Maybe they’re just the ones who had to pay for it.’”

No one who has read the book will come away feeling that Mr. Capote believed this to be a justification of Perry Smith’s actions, but the book offered a rare insight into the mind of a killer. At a time when India needs an insight into the mind of a rapist in order to recalibrate its own institutional responses, the country is instead choosing an ostrich-like response — burying its head in sand.

Journalism has a long history of interviewing those convicted of heinous crimes including mass murder, rape and cannibalism. Yet, on March 3, the Delhi police registered a First Information Report against filmmaker Leslee Udwin for her documentary “India’s Daughter” on rape in the country, and on March 4, following the night of news shows railing against the documentary, a Delhi court stopped its broadcast, and the Union government warned television channels against airing it.

Misdiagnosing the problem

Issues of freedom of expression apart, the documentary, including its interviews with convicted rapists, needs to be aired and watched so that we do not continue to misdiagnose the roots of sexual violence in India and focus on fixing the wrong things.

In excerpts released from an interview from jail that forms part of the documentary, Mukesh Singh, who has been convicted of the December 16 2012 gang rape, says that the deceased victim was to blame for her rape for wearing the “wrong clothes” and being out with a boy late at night. Mukesh’s repugnant comments are echoed by one of the defence lawyers, A.P. Singh, who tells Ms. Udwin that he would set ablaze his sister or daughter if she “engaged in premarital activities.” Another lawyer M.L. Sharma is a step worse. “If you keep sweets on the street then dogs will come and eat them. Why did [her] parents send her with anyone that late at night?” he says. Another man convicted of raping a ten-year-old tells Ms. Udwin, “she was a beggar child. Her life had no value.”

Statements such as these, which separate the ‘good’ girl from the ‘bad’ girl, are not rare, and have been made repeatedly by leading politicians of the country such as Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. Mr. Khattar said during his election campaign that “if a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her in the wrong way.” Nationalist Congress Party leader Asha Mirje said in early 2014, “Did Nirbhaya really have to go to watch a movie at 11 in the night with her friend? Take the Shakti Mills gang-rape case. Why did the (victim) go to such an isolated spot at 6 p.m.?” A couple of days back, a video of a right-wing leader saying in the presence of Bharatiya Janata Party MP Yogi Adityanath that Muslim women’s corpses should be dug up and raped resurfaced.

There is no police force in the world and no mobile app that can completely prevent rape as long as there are men who believe that women who assert their own choices deserve to be raped or killed, or that a poor girl’s life has no value, or that rape is a legitimate tool of caste and religious hatred.

Yet, the institutional response of the state in the two-and-a-half years following the December 16 gang rape has centred around policing, self-defence for women and technology-led solutions including panic buttons in taxis and safety apps. There is little clarity on what the Rs. 1,000 crore Nirbhaya Fund announced by the earlier United Progressive Alliance government, to which Finance Minister Arun Jaitley recently added another Rs. 1,000 crore, will do, but some money has been allotted to making public transport safer.

Changing gender dynamics

There have been few concrete steps taken to change gender dynamics in India and assert that women’s freedom to take their own decisions — of dress, of love, of education, of work — is both essential, and at the root of India’s rape culture. If leaders are more cautious about making misogynistic statements, what has replaced it is statements like those made by Information and Broadcasting minister Rajyavardhan Rathore, who while not saying that women should stop working in front-line jobs in the army or in the media, suggested that more back-end jobs would be better suited for them. Similarly, when ‘Kiss of Love’ protests broke out across the country in response to moral policing, the protests were not muscularly backed by the state, and dozens of protesters were arrested.

If India had read the minds of its rapists and molesters correctly, and had acknowledged that women’s freedoms are what offend these criminals and their defenders, there would have been no need for an “India’s Daughter.” Unfortunately, it is only when interviews of this nature are conducted that we will ever know how many men in India still think of women. The least we can do is act honestly and immediately on these repugnant attitudes.

Union Minister Venkaiah Naidu said on March 4 that a documentary that defames India would not be allowed to be aired. Unfortunately, all this will do is once again give cover to the men whose views diminish India.


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