If Narendra Modi becomes the Time man of the year or Sachin Tendulkar is given a prize for sporting icon of the year by Forbes or BBC we would exalt. Why on earth are we so unhappy, prickly and violent when the same people discuss the issues we face as a nation? Rape and male attitudes to women is one of the issues and it is a global issue. India’s Daughter, Leslee Udwin’s 60 minute documentary tackles that. India happens to be a country where the rape and murder of a 23-year old in December 2012 sparked a protest that most other countries do not see. The scale of the social unrest and protests it caused impressed Udwin to use the India example in her documentary which I am yet to watch. But here are some of the initial reactions after its screening in the UK on Thursday night.
One comment on Facebook says that it is an indictment of Indian men and male attitudes. Trushar Barot, apps editor, BBC World service and UK-based Indian tweeted, “Watched #IndiasDaughter last night. Very powerful, moving and thought-provoking. Wish all in India could see it so a proper debate could be had.” My 38-year old niece (second generation Indian born in the UK) says that it is an excellent documentary and “am a loss as to why it was banned. India, get your act together, accept your failings and address them.”
Protests after the Nirbhaya rape. File pic
And that frankly is the crux of the issue. Both Javed Akhtar and Kirron Kher have stood up in parliament to ask why the issues the films raises – that of male attitudes to women, the refusal to accept that women have the right to say no – has not been discussed. Why instead is the Home ministry and the ministry of information and broadcasting hounding the documentary filmmaker for interviewing the rapist and for alleged ‘permission violation.’ A BBC spokesperson says that; “Assassin Films, the production company that made India’s Daughter has assured the BBC that it fully complied with the filming permissions granted by Tihar Jail and we are confident the film fully complies with our editorial guidelines.”
Like Javed Akhtar says, why are we so ashamed of letting everybody know how the rapist thinks. So many Indian men think that it is wrong for women to go out after dark. In fact the defence lawyer in the Nirbhaya case himself said that. If the educated defence lawyer and his rapist client think alike it tells you the distance we have to travel as a society. But instead of beginning to start the journey of reflecting, realising and putting in place systems and social practices that could change these attitudes, we are banning the film and seeking its ban in other countries. As usual we are on a ‘kill the bearer of bad news spree’.
This makes India look like an insecure, thin-skinned country that condones male chauvinism and aggression. And it also makes us look somewhat foolish and childish. That to my mind is a greater sin coming from the world’s largest democracy which has a reputation for being tolerant and progressive. We have had a female prime minister, chief ministers and many female MPs long before many other countries. We are used to women in senior positions, in corporate and other roles. Why then are we so ashamed to admit that some men in India do think like this? And that we need to tackle this by starting to raise better sons, ones who don’t think that the clothes a woman wears or when she steps out of the house are reasons for the violent assault.
India’s Daughter should be watched by every Indian adult. Because it is time Indians started having mature conversations about themselves and their failings. And like I said in my earlier piece in another paper, the world’s impression of India was formed when the rape happened. Why go after a documentary for simply stating the truth.
The writer is a media specialist and author. Follow her on twitter @vanitakohlik