On March 6 we were invited to a private screening of “India’s Daughter”, the powerful documentary recounting the gang rape and murder of Jyoty Singh in a Delhi bus in 2012. At the event, organised by Plan UK and hosted by Doughty Street Chambers, we also had the opportunity to meet the film maker Leslee Udwin.
On December 16 2012 Jyoty was brutally gang raped as she was going home from the cinema with a friend. She was also severely beaten and had her intestines pulled out of her. She died in hospital a few days later.
The one-hour film features interviews with several people involved in or affected by the incident, including the Jyoty’s parents, one of the rapists, and the defence lawyer.
The focus of the documentary was not just reconstructing the events of that tragic night but also exposing the mentality behind the rape, i.e. the ingrained idea that a woman is a commodity – a property of the men in the family without any freedom of choice or movement.
It also shows a widespread tendency towards victim-blaming. The interviewed rapist candidly claims that rape is more a woman’s fault than man’s and also suggests that by resisting the rape the girl is somehow responsible of her own murder.
Even more shocking are the statements made by the rapists’ defence lawyer when he claims that “the moment she came out of the house with a boy who was neither her husband nor her brother, she left her morality and reputation as a doctor as well as girl’s morality in the house and she came out just like a woman.”
These are probably some of the reasons behind the controversial decision of the Indian government to ban the film, which may have been perceived as an attempt to cast a negative light on the country by a western director.
One of the points that were raised in the programme is that the image of India that emerges from the film is far from negative. Alongside the patriarchal mentality which is prevalent among certain individuals, the documentary shows the reaction to the crime – thousands of horrified people spontaneously and continuously took to the streets to protest every day for a whole month. This is almost unprecedented and shows that many in the country do not identify with certain ideas and are willing to raise their voice to protect women. They are ready for change.
On International Women’s Day, we were invited by our ambassadors Sunny and Shay Grewal to discuss the issue on BBC London Radio 94.9 Everyone in the panel, which included another of our ambassadors Sukki Singapora, together with Reena Ranger and Pavneet Sambhi, strongly opposed the ban.
Jyoty’s parents also come across as very positive people. While they come from a traditional family, they have a very modern mentality. They celebrated their girl’s birth in the same way they would have if it had been a boy. They sold their ancestral property to allow her to study and to pursue her dream to become a doctor. And now they are defending her honour in death against those who are victim-blaming.
But why is it important to us here in the UK? Surely it is ‘India’s’ problem not ours? Well with a large South Asian diaspora in the UK the link is very real as these are all someone’s mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces, wives and aunts.
As women’s rights activists, but even more so as human beings, we cannot allow an issue of such importance to be buried particularly as some of the women we support have fled rape in India, which is why this is very close to our hearts.
Any initiative aimed at raising awareness, no matter where it comes from, should be supported and not banned.
You can listen back to the discussions on the ban on India’s Daughter on BBC iplayer: