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Let's talk about rape

Pria Somiah Alva’s film explores the subtext and politics of rape, such as police misogyny and caste atrocities. It has bagged three awards at the New York Festival of International Television and Film Awards

In December 2012, after the gang rape of a 23-year-old girl in Delhi, filmmaker Pria Somaiah Alva was one among the many who were overwhelmed at the way people spilled on to the streets in protest. “There was such outrage, and men, too, came out to protest. Women demanded that it was time the perpetrator got shamed, not the girl.

The country rose in protest after the gang rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi in December 2012. File photo
The country rose in protest after the gang rape of a 23-year-old student in Delhi in December 2012. File photo

It was a significant time and I wanted to examine this shift,” says Alva, who remembers passing by marches conducted by even schoolchildren in Coorg soon after the gang rape.

She observed how families who wouldn’t utter the word ‘rape’ in front of children began speaking about it. Over the next four months, Alva filmed the documentary, Silent Screams: India’s Fight Against Rape.

The ordeal
Last month, the film, written by Manira Pinto and produced by Miditech for Channel NewsAsia, won three awards at the New York Festival of International Television and Film Awards — a Gold World Medal for ‘Best Investigative Report’ and two Bronze gold medals in the ‘Current Affairs’ and ‘Human Concerns’ categories.

Filmmaker Pria Somiah Alva
Filmmaker Pria Somiah Alva

The film follows journalist Namita Bhandari as she pursues three cases of rape the 2012 Delhi case, the gang rape of a 16-year-old Dalit girl in Haryana (November 2012) and of a woman in Kolkata (February 2012).

To cover the issue comprehensively, says Alva, she thought it was essential to look into the subtext and the politics of rape. “The ordeal does not end with the rape — there is harassment by the police, judicial issues and, often, a caste angle,” says Alva.

Through the case of the Delhi gang rape, Alva looks into how the country was collectively shaken up, the Verma Committee and judicial changes such as the anti-rape bill.

Through the Kolkata rape case, Alva hopes to highlight misogyny among the police. The film discusses the atrocious behaviour of the police who refused to file and FIR, taunted the woman for going to a disco in spite of being a single mother and did not bother to collect evidence effectively for investigation.

Justice, an after-effect
She chose to document the Haryana rape to reveal caste atrocities. “A month before the Delhi gang rape, 19 girls, mostly minors, were raped in Haryana, but they received due attention only after December, and a legal aid cell was formed to help them fight cases.”

The 16-year-old who features in Alva’s film couldn’t leave home because the rapist’s men from the so-called ‘upper caste’ had killed her mother and had vowed to kill her, too. It was caste-based violence. “Yet, in the film, the girl looks into the camera and says she would fight like the Delhi girl tried to,” remembers Alva.

Police misogyny
After film screenings and group discussions, Alva finds one resonant view among viewers shaming the girl must stop. “There is talk of how Gender Studies must be introduced in school. These discussions are breaking socio-economic barriers.”

Alva believes that the overhaul in perspective must start with the police as much as at home. “We filmed a gender sensitisation workshop which the police had organised for its officers. Expectedly, there was gender stereotyping in the way they said they handle rape cases. But if the police makes this practice the norm, investigation will be handled differently in India,” she believes.

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