Perhaps one of the most horrific cases to emerge in the modern century is the story of Jyoti Singh: a 23-year-old Indian woman who was tortured and raped by five different men – one under the age of eighteen – in Delhi, in December 2012. Her story – expressed by British filmmaker Leslee Udwin – is now being banned in India.
Having watched Udwin’s documentary, India’s Daughter, on BBC4, it is safe to say that while giving a voice to one of the rapists, Udwin absolutely does not condone any of their actions. Instead, she is challenging shame culture and shifting the blame from the victim onto the perpetrators. As a victim of rape herself, Udwin is in fact pleading for the documentary to be seen before any judgment can be made. She states about the censorship of the documentary: ‘Whoever is behind this – please see the film and then come to a conclusion.’ The filmmaker calls for the assistance of the Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, so that her film can be pushed into the public domain for discussion.
Backlash against censorship in India
On Twitter, people are arguing that her film should be considered compulsory viewing and its censorship is an act of cowardice on the part of the politicians:
Why ban it, it should be compulsory viewing, surely the politicians have to agree #IndiasDaughter
— johnpm (@johnpm) March 4, 2015
Here we go again . Banning a film that examines an unsavoury aspect of Indian society . It should be made compulsory viewing . What cowards.
— Deepa Mehta (@IamDeepaMehta) March 4, 2015
Even the actress Freida Pinto contributes her voice to Udwin’s campaign:
— Plan UK (@PlanUK) March 4, 2015
— Freida Pinto (@BecauseImFreida) March 4, 2015
Rape culture in India
However, Udwin is still meeting some fierce opposition. She is being condemned by Indian politicians, some of whom claim that she is attempting to defame India and that she violated rules in the filming and broadcasting process. However, this should not be the most pressing matter. Udwin offers an invaluable insight into the mind of a rapist, which suggests that their shocking actions originate from an inherently flawed gender dynamic that has its roots within poverty, daily life and a corrupt judicial system. For example, the defence lawyer’s statements are perhaps the most harrowing in the entire documentary. A. P. Singh states that if his daughter or sister were to engage in ‘premarital activities’ he would ‘put petrol on her and set her alight.’ This is the comment of a man who is defending Jyoti’s rapists and murderers. This is a comment that fundamentally supports patriarchal authority and male dominance, is threatening, and suggests that he himself should be contained. Yet it comes from a lawyer.
One of the convicted men also supports many of the patriarchal views that circle rape, stating that ‘a decent girl won’t roam around at 9pm’ and that women should be ‘silent and allow the rape’. While these statements may have shocked society, the convict is merely demonstrating his own lack of remorse. Indian culture may be inherently different to Western culture but the freedom of a woman to travel at night and to go to see a film with a friend should never lead to death. One might wonder that in a country that has yet to deliver justice to Jyoti’s attackers, the filmmaker conveying the depth of her torture as well as the resulting trauma of her parents, is being prosecuted first. The fact that the crime against Jyoti occurred three years ago is of little consequence when only one of her rapists – the juvenile – has served three years in a special home. He is being released this December – three years on from his attack on an innocent woman. One has committed suicide in his prison cell. The others are awaiting capital punishment.
Censorship is not the answer
So why is Jyoti’s story being banned? Why is her story, the one that ignited the hearts of the nation into protesting for justice now being censored? Perhaps it is because Udwin violated Indian rules about filmmaking. But somehow, it feels that the answer is more likely to be due to the fact that she produced a documentary that fundamentally questions the mentality of shame, Indian society and its corruption. The politicians opposing the film state that the documentary is attempting to damage and defame India’s image in the world. However, the documentary has already been viewed around the world in countries such as the United Kingdom. Therefore, India has nothing left to hide. Undoubtedly, the answer to moving forward from this horrific crime is not censorship or silence. India needs dialogue.