So, I just watched the much talked about, controversial India’s Daughter. It’s available online, not sure for how long, but you must watch it too before it gets taken down. It’s gruesome, will make your stomach turn, your heart break and maybe like me spend 75% of the run time wiping away helpless, uncontrollable tears so you can actually watch the rest of the film clearly. The moment the debate around the film broke out, and I read about it, I have wondered just how thin the line between 1) documenting the psychology and culture of violence against women, with a view to understand the socio economic factors that feed into it and the minds of criminals who perpetrate these crimes and 2) a western filmmaker using an isolated event in a global issue that somehow makes it look like rape is endemic to what is viewed as “barbaric, uncivilised” segments of society. (Have we already forgotten Tejpal? Pachauri? And the tons of cases of violence against women in the west? Also while we’re nitpicking, can a woman not be just that without having to be someone’s daughter, wife, sister etc?!)
It actually began with the outrage over the rapists views that were published in a Telegraph article a day before the news about the film broke out. People were shocked at his brazen, unrepentant, misogynistic views. But I was shocked at the outrage. Shocked that people were shocked. Because really, is it such a surprise given the entire incident he was a part of? To me, the shock and outrage was actually telling of how naiive we are as a people, about the general attitude of men around us. Especially people like me outraging on facebook and twitter, the privileged lot who haven’t faced an iota of the kind of daily violence that more than 50% of India does. Sometimes at the hands of their own family. By their husbands — and that’s not even up for legal action.
It speaks of our collective naivete about the lives, times and backgrounds of more than half this nation. We, in our polarised existence in our bubbles of privilege, find it much easier to feel emboldened by the most current topic of outrage, to spew superficial psychobabble, reducing big issues to things as solutions as simplistic and uni-dimensional as bringing up our sons better etc, which while valid, is really not so much as making a miniscule dent in the issue.
It is for this reason alone that the documentary needs to be watched. Because it brings to the fore the connections between socio-economic conditions, politics of power, the deep-rooted sexism and misogyny that our culture (the one we are so proud of, the one we rush to protect and uphold every chance we get) perpetuates, leading to violence of this sort. It is important that these are brought out because our awareness of these is shameful. The shock and outrage over the rapists views, and the alacrity with which our government clamped down on the film is telling of just how apathetic our attitudes and understanding of the causes for a culture of rape are.
If we need to begin to fix it, the first thing we need to do is understand the mind of men like Mukesh and his friends. Interviews, documentaries, studies are a way to do this. It is critical that we understand what makes a criminal, what pushes him to the point of raping a woman and brutally attacking her in the way that Jyoti was. If we don’t have the courage to look at a crime, see what caused it, how on earth are going to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Yesterday, I found my discomfort about the nature of the film it could have been, articulated in two pieces. I hadn’t watched it yet and given that, these pieces were in my opinion sensible views amidst all the noise online. Kavita Krishnan’s piece hits the nail on the head, and Nilanjana Roy asks some very important questions. Dipta put it succinctly this morning: “Reasons to watch it: Many. Reasons not to watch it: Many. Reasons to ban it: None.”
So this morning, I watched the film. Just three minutes in I was reduced to helpless tears. Helpless not just because I suddenly relived the shock and awe of December 2012, but it brought the whole episode alive in a gruesome, raw manner. The tears were of grief, helplessness and most crippling of all — of guilt. Of being the privileged. Born to a family with liberal views, educated, always given equal opportunity, always thought to be fearless, never allowing situation or circumstance to stop us from furthering our education, career, life path. Our daily issues, the ones I crib about on a weekly basis, do not hold a candle to the daily abuse and suffering so many women in our country go through. Beginning right in the comfort of their homes, at the hands of their husbands. Which incidentally, isn’t even against the law as yet.
The film shook me up completely. Mukesh’s views didn’t shock me as much as those of the defence lawyers. They’re representative of the very thought process and the reason we are this juncture — banning a film that seeks to look inside the mind of a rapist, while there’s a woman getting raped every 20 minutes in our country.
I’m mixed up about my issues about the tone and nature of the film itself, but I am aghast at the ban because we cannot begin to fix this with tokenism and lipservice in the form of slogans like Beti Padhao, Beti Bachao. We have to teach respect, enforce it. We have to make a habit of equality. We have to unlearn our culture of divisiveness, of privilege and patriarchy. And for that we have find out what causes men like Mukesh to think the way they do.And if you watch the film, you’ll see the many answers to that question. The answers lie in the immense and fast-widening economic disparity. In the lack of jobs and direction. In our culture of favouring boys over girls. In the fact that our government harbours criminals yet to be tried. In the minds of the Asaram Bapus and Mulayam Singhs of our country. In the minds of the defense lawyers of the criminals spewing their vile, misogynistic views in the film. In a faulty criminal and judicial system that delays FIRs, still questions victims first, and has no proper redressal. If we’re willing to bravely explore that, we can make a beginning with the process that will frankly take a few decades to get moving before any change is seen.
So tell me. How many of you were actually surprised that the documentary was banned to protect our national image. Because Mukesh’s views make India look bad. Because we are so used to brushing the crap that happens within our homes into the closet and putting up a brave, clean front of perfection. Aren’t we already experts at shutting up about rape to protect family dignity and save face? Wasn’t this just the same thing on a national level?So watch it people. I began this morning by saying what’s the use, those who are truly apathetic and need to watch this probably won’t even have access to it. But by the end I was convinced that those of us who hve the privilege, who have access, who understand are the ones who must make the beginning. Blur the lines, close the gaps, spread the word. And fast, because the speed at which we’re regressing into a nation of hypocrisy, lies and worst of all, censorship, is trying to outpace us.
If you’ve ever wondered about the pride and glory of India shining know that there’s a good lot of Indian who like Mukesh’s lawyer believe, “India has the best culture. There is no place for women in our culture.”