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The many ‘missing voices’ in India’s Daughter

Published on SAYFTY (MARCH 30, 2015)

One film came and controversy arose. The furore over India’s Daughter, a documentary based on the December 2012 Delhi gang rape has been a subject of discussion over the past few weeks. Not just the content of the film, but issues like a ban on its broadcast have resulted in the documentary being discussed by people in India and across the globe. In all this commotion, there is hardly any debate on what the documentary missed out or what glaring problems surface in its narrative of December 16.
Sections of Indian society have been suspicious of what motivated the documentary by Leslee Udwin, a British filmmaker. Was it a ploy on part of the western world to show India in poor light? Does it point to a western agenda of asserting supremacy over our part of the world, by simply telling us to reflect over the way we treat our women folk? Does it suggest that we (India) have long way to go before we can claim to becoming the next superpower? While these debates flourish in the public domain, what is more important is to look at what the documentary misses out on. Whenever such visual insights on significant social issues are documented, either we are overwhelmed by it or take to irrelevant criticism. In this, the nature of the narrative and flaws within its premise escape our attention.
The spotlight undoubtedly is on the misogyny seemingly prevalent in the country, resulting in second grade treatment of its women. But do we really need a documentary to bring this truth out? Are we not already aware of the patriarchal mindset that dominates our society and way of life? How much more effort and time do we need to understand the psyche of men who take to heinous crimes as in the Delhi gang rape? We as a society need to move beyond merely understanding such views to actually examining how they are cultivated. Collectively, our call for action cannot be only devoted to understanding the perpetrator’s perspective (as outrageous as it may be – in this case views of the accused and their defense lawyers). This has to generate a rigorous systemic change that looks to shake up the patriarchal order we continue to live in.
Banning the documentary only ensured that it went viral, generated heated debate and even more curiosity on social media. While many acknowledged the problems with Indian society, a lot of male bashing, unnecessary and uncalled for, also happened post the documentary.
A critical overview would reveal that the 59 minute film left many important aspects unexplored. For instance, the case of the juvenile. Why weren’t strong views advocated when it came to his role in the gang rape, believed by many to be the most brutal? The fact that he will be set free by the end of this year is bothering a lot of people. Complete silence was maintained on this issue. Also, the stigma that a rape victim faces along with lack of political and legal will to bring the accused to book was not referred to. Nowhere did the film mention the lack of societal and systemic support to a rape victim. The film also stands out as an example of blatant stereotyping because there is no ‘balance’ of voices present. In fact, as many men pointed out on social media, they acknowledge the problems that women face, however generalizing and stereotyping male attitudes is not going to help. Not all Indian men hold views similar to the accused or the defence lawyers. Such entrenched stereotypes only lead to men branding feminism and gender activism as “male bashing.”
The film’s two highpoints were interviews with the accused and the lawyers both of which have caught public attention. As outrageous as these views are, my unease with airing them is the probability that these men have become celebrities. Their words have sent shock waves across the globe and rightly so. But was there any need for them to be heard? Do we already not know what mindset promotes their thinking? I see this as glorification of views of people who should be shunned and not allowed to speak their dirty mind. The accused comes across as a confident person with no remorse at all. Both he and his lawyers make ample use of cultural and religious references to justify what happened to the victim that night. Should we even allow people with such thoughts to assume ownership of religious and cultural idioms to justify something that remains and will remain outrightly condemnable? A similar commentary by Anup Kumar talks of how the film privileges the voice of the accused over the victim’s (The flaws in ‘India’s Daughter’, The Hoot, 2015).
Most surprisingly, the victim’s friend who was with her during the brutal incident, Awindra Pratap Pandey finds no mention in the film. Were his views not important for the film-maker? He is a man who fought against the rapists to save his friend, risking his own life in the process. Why did the film-maker not deem it important to let Awindra speak? When men like the accused and his lawyers can put forth their completely abhorrent views, why not Awindra? If there is a thriving mindset that the accused are representative of, there is also a thoughtfulness that Awindra symbolizes. There was no reason to exclude it (for more on this see “What I Wish The BBC Documentary India’s Daughter Had Also Shown” at: http://www.thebetterindia.com/20442/my-view-indias-daughter-bbc-documentary-nirbhaya/). A bigger problem surfaces with only one accused being interviewed while others are absent from the scene. This conveys an impression of how they did not commit the crime in unison, but partook in it individually, which is far removed from reality.
The film begins with snapshots of protests after the incident but lacks any reference to the discussions and movement spearheaded by India’s civil society post December 16. Focusing only on the protests, it misses out on the after effects of these protests. Constructive changes in laws dealing with sexual violence were an important outcome that the film fails to highlight. There is only a subtle attempt to look at what triggered such behavior from the accused and that is present in form of the dire conditions in which the family of the accused live.
Though India’s Daughter tells an important story, the narrative at times is lop-sided. While social media accounts are full of eye-opening statements and admittance of a systemic failure in upholding women’s rights in the country, most have chosen to react to the pros and cons of the ban and not to the film’s content. With every such piece of work, all we end up with is being triggered into discussion mode, which is certainly needed. However, the debate should not merely be about shifting focus from ‘one rape’ to the ‘other’ while forgetting that gender based violence remains a pressing issue – irrespective of how many more such documentaries are made. Did India really deserve a daughter like Nirbhaya when all India did was to fail her? Fail her at a time when she was dreaming big, soaring high? Fail her when she was the guiding light for her family? Fail her when all she was guilty of was watching a movie with a friend?
India’s many daughters wait for an answer.

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