Monday, March 9, 2015

THOUGHTS ON INDIA’S DAUGHTER

By Raakhee Suryaprakash

A still from "India's Daughter"
I watched the documentary India’s Daughter on the December 2012 Delhi gang rape online on March 6, 2015. After nearly a week’s “inadvertent publicity” and furore over the programme on various social media platforms and hysterical TV debates on the topic, the Government of India banned its scheduled telecast on the occasion of International Women’s Day. In the run-up to the ban while the rapist’s (I refuse to dignify him by using his name) interview made waves online a lot was written about the “white saviour” complex, and the dangers of generalizing and the affront the misogynistic views of the rapists and lawyers who defended them were when attributed to all Indian males. While in my view the documentary had nothing new to offer, I feel the ban was an overreaction and ensured the virality of the film. When I was watching it the link was said to have 40.3K views/shares (that’s 40,300 to the uninitiated). And that was just one platform, yet many were watching it and searching for it – making for a huge audience for a documentary not as effective as the other earlier BBC documentary: India - A Dangerous Place to Be a Woman.

Yet India’s Daughter should not be dismissed altogether. Yes it repeats the same solutions to the patriarchy and misogyny problems it India. Yet they bear repeating until something is done to curb the appalling frequency of violence against women. Despite what the film-maker claims was India's "Arab Spring" moment against rape not much has changed since the protests following the December 2012 incident. Patriarchy and misogyny live on popping up almost everywhere and nearly numbing and desensitizing one to the consequences. The attitude of “blame the victim, shame the victim” continues unchecked. Writer and member of parliament Javed Akhtar’s frustration was obvious in his denunciation in parliament when he said that he has the heard the “blame the victim” trope even in the Indian parliament – the same arena which witnessed two MPs watching “rape porn” on a phone during parliament session.

More than a reflection Indian of society as claimed in the documentary’s promotional material, I’d liken the documentary – which has as many detractors as supporters – to a dust in the eye of Indian society. An irritant to our vision of the nation but just as dust in our eyes leads us to wash it and attend to the problem to clear and improve our vision India’s Daughter and other documentaries on violence against women will perhaps make responsible citizens re-look at the omnipresent misogynistic norms. A non-white with or without the access to the same monetary resources may not have the access filmmaker Leslee Udwin had. As another harsh truth in India is “white worship” and “green chasing.” Hopefully this documentary will breed other quests for improving the status of Indian women and ensuring their safety.

The Delhi Police head claiming that Delhi is a safe city – as safe as any city in the developing world stuck with me. While I dispute the first part of his claim I’d like to explore the second part’s corollary that when such a horrific incident occurs in the national capital and it is claimed to be “as safe as others” then all cities are unsafe for women. Take the Dominique Strauss-Kahn cases in Paris and New York or the child abuse scandal resulting in the Operation Bullfinch in Oxford and the other similar case in Rotherham, UK where hundreds if not thousands of young people – many young girls – were abused. Or the myriad reported and unreported instance of violence against women across the both urban and rural India. You realize nowhere is safe. A woman is not safe at home or outside – not in the urban setting neither in the rural. With statistics proving that most rapists and perpetrators of crimes against victim are known to the victim and in a significant portion of the cases the victim’s partner or part of the extended family the insecurity becomes appallingly ubiquitous.

Ingrid Therwath of Courrier International was spot on when she said in her article about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn trial which was carried in the Hindu:
Ever since the 2012 Delhi rape, rape stories in India have featured prominently in the French press. Readers are often horrified by the levels of violence against women in India and are quick to point the finger at the inequalities in Indian society and at the caste system. The testimonies during the DSK trial in Paris show that the rape culture also festers in a less conservative, less religious society than India. What the two countries have in common and what enables this rape culture is a deeply engrained patriarchal and heteronormative set-up. In the Greek mythology, the Minotaur is trapped in a labyrinth. In our contemporary societies, Minotaurs roam freely.
The rapist’s defence lawyer claim that that our parliament is populated by criminals, murderers and rapists whose crimes are not prosecuted in fast-track courts. As a criminal defence lawyer, without impunity he endorses honour killing and reiterating his controversial statement made when the death penalty was announced to the rapists that he’d burn the girls in his family before his family for premarital relations with the opposite sex. What’s equally horrifying is that the violent juvenile who was believed to have instigated the evisceration of the victim gets out at the end of the year – December 2015. The lesson other potential juvenile rapists and even “the juvenile” may imbibe is that you can get away with rape and murder! You could even find yourself being interviewed on camera. There is information doing the rounds is that the rapist got paid for doing the interview. Not only is the gang of rapists eating the taxpayer’s money in jail for the past three years instead of being hung to death immediately – one of them even gets paid to air his misogynistic viewpoint. Perhaps the Nagaland mob’s jail break-in and lynching of the rapist is the way to enforce the boundaries and respect for women.


The jail psychiatrist’s view that there are men in jail who claim to have raped nearly 200 times but were caught or punished for say 12 instances is a very worrying fact as it shows that their actions have little or no consequence and the violence escalates unchecked. The slow course Indian justice enables violence against women. While Lakshman Rekhas abound for women there are few boundaries enforced for men not just in India but across the globe.  In the context of the ridiculously low number of sanctioned rape crisis centres perhaps it is obvious that women’s safety has a low priority. Why weren’t they promoted as creating new careers? Just as ‘Make in India’ is touted to generate jobs employing professionals in the crises centres could create jobs while fulfilling a great social need. Yet that PR fell between the cracks of Indian bureaucracy!
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