Fighting the wrong enemy

The last few days have been consumed as far as the media is concerned anyway by a documentary on rape we’re not allowed to see. So I haven’t seen it. But I’ve read just about every viewpoint I can find on it. In a rare case, the government and ardent feminists find themselves on the same side against the airing of the documentary. Their reasons may be different but the end result is a form of censorship and a reaffirmation of a nanny state that determines that we are not adult enough for some things. The government thinks that the documentary defames India; the feminists feel that the rapist has been given needless air time and that the judicial process will be affected by his statements.

The documentary India’s Daughter retraces the horrific Delhi gang rape in December 2012, as well as the protests that followed. The film was banned in India but was aired in other countries on March 4. File pic
The documentary India’s Daughter retraces the horrific Delhi gang rape in December 2012, as well as the protests that followed. The film was banned in India but was aired in other countries on March 4. File pic

Those firmly on the other side think that the documentary is a must-see because it holds up a mirror to how horrible we are. In between there are those who think that the documentary is so-so, is badly made, makes sweeping judgments about India, has broken laws in the process, agree that it will affect the judicial process, feel it has given too much space to the rapist and his lawyers, have evidence that it has been unfair to Indian documentary makers who were initially involved and moreover ask, why has a foreigner come here and told us about ourselves... However, on this side there is a consensus that the documentary should not have been banned.

The world meanwhile has been watching India closely since the gang rape of December 2012, not least our reaction to it the protests, the change in laws, the arguments. That is why the documentary was made. That is why, in a bizarre twist, a professor at a German university refused an internship to an Indian male student because of India’s “rape culture”.

In all these arguments, what actually is and what has been is practically forgotten. The government forgets that the rape did happen. The ardent feminists forget that one rapist and two lawyers do not sound different from other men who say and do similar things. And the German professor forgets that rape happens everywhere. Those who do not support the ban at least are open enough to accept that we live in a world of shifting sands.

No one can claim that life became easier for women in India after we expressed horror at what happened that night in Delhi. In fact, we suddenly heard about more gruesome and terrible rapes and assaults on women from all over India, and it hasn’t stopped. But something did happen we haven’t stopped talking about it. We haven’t sat back and accepted it as part of life. We have forced those in positions of power to pay lip service, if nothing else.

It’s no small achievement this, in a world where 50 per cent of the world’s population still has to fight for a fair deal in life. The death of that young woman at least made us sit up and take notice. Should we let this fight over a documentary on her life and her murderers destroy what we have gained?

It is not going to help us if we behave as if all men are potential rapists or that all Indian men sound like one particular disgusting rapist or will get influenced by a man who committed a heinous crime. It is not going to help either if we bury our heads in the illusory collective comfort of vague notions of “Indian culture”.

Since December 2012, we have dealt with rape, misogyny and patriarchy with a fair bit of honesty more than I have ever seen before. We have seen men and women, young and old, urban and rural coming together to fight for gender equality with outrage, humour, intelligence and understanding. We have seen various media being used to spread the message. I would applaud all that. The war is not over: it is possible that this is not a war of the sort that ends. But it’s a fight that has to continue. If the fight is against divisive and exploitative forces then I fear that this fight over a documentary has needlessly taken us a few steps back. And how will that help anyone except the exploiters?

Ranjona Banerji is a senior journalist. You can follow her on twitter @ranjona

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