Women in Orissa, India
India loves foreign attention. It loves showcasing Modi, its vast and ancient culture, and its growing financial and technical power. However, while it loves being basked in the appreciation of its rising economy, the tides turn when the media highlights any issue that is remotely negative. The BBC documentary “India’s daughter” has pushed India’s destructive image issues to new heights, resulting in a governmental ban on its screening in India.
The film re-enacts a horrific rape of “unnatural” brutality endured by a 23-year-old medical student on a bus by a driver and four other accomplices on a fateful night in December 2012. This case has become a tipping point in India’s modern history; it shook the world, creating a massive uproar among the people for change. Millions took to the streets, resulting in thousands of candle marches and protests. The parliament acted in unprecedented unison and India’s Supreme Court held a fast-tracked hearing for the case. The court sentenced four men involved in the gruesome rape and murder to death, one committed suicide while awaiting trial, and the minor involved was sentenced to three years in the reformatory—the maximum allowable sentence under Indian law.
When considering the strong response to this case, one question remains: why would the government proceed to ban a film made to increase awareness of these acts? For one, the direction of the movie by a foreign filmmaker definitely didn’t win it any favors. Critics argue that the film portrays India through a lens of “Orientalism” and casts the country in an unfavorable light from a colonial perspective.
The film, however, is directed as a series of interviews from the convicts, defense lawyers, and parents of the victim. It doesn’t impose its opinion on anyone and merely leaves the viewers to form their own conclusions while also having full editorial consent from the parents and the authorities on issues of legality and accuracy. The filmmakers also took care to avoid interfering with the legal proceedings of the case, a concern which is cited as one of the official justifications for the imposition of the ban.
This trial has created the illusion of a “victory for women” in the public’s mind. Women in India rejoiced in the belief that their voices were finally being heard and that the criminals who victimized them would be punished. But don’t these points represent the purpose of the justice system? How can the acknowledgement of rape as a punishable offense be classified as a win when the punishment of such acts should be a given? Furthermore, what has the government done in the past to prevent such terrible incidents?
On the surface: a great deal. In reality: not much.
Statistically, one woman in India is raped every 20 minutes. Millions each year are sold into the sex trade, many by their own parents. During the interviews in the film, one of the perpetrators accurately summarized the views of the Indian mindset: it promotes the belief that “We have the best culture in the world. In our culture there is no space for women.” Despite its constant denial of the evidence and assertions of progress, India is still a deeply patriarchal society.
Recently, the government has attempted to step up to combat the issue, albeit in a somewhat limited capacity. After hearing appeals from women, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has resolved to install one million cameras in Delhi. The city already has around 4,000 cameras installed in public areas, places of worship, and on the streets. The appeal was based on the arrest of rapists that abducted a Nigerian woman from a mall in Delhi, which is the same mall that the victim of the 2012 rape was visiting on the night she was attacked. The installation of cameras to keep an eye on crime, however, will create its own controversy on the issue of privacy, a subject of heated debate even in western countries.
Many Indian critics of the policy have argued that this issue isn’t as severe as many think, and that the public should move past, rather than dwell on, these instances. This proposition, however, is simply irrational when every day the press breaks news of new rapes and sexual assaults, each more horrific than the last. This is an issue that not only affects Indian women, but is a danger to women in the country general. Just last month, a Japanese tourist was abducted from a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya, a frequently visited sacred site where Lord Buddha attained enlightenment. She was forced by her captors to withdraw around 2000 dollars from an ATM and was confined to a room for almost two weeks while she was repeatedly raped.
This case has led to a massive uproar on a global scale. India is central to a great deal of professional and tourism related travel in Asia, and is increasingly linked to the world via finance, entertainment, and much more. Being well connected, however, has its expectations, and the fair treatment of women ranks fairly high among those responsibilities in the modern world. The state women’s safety and the mindset about regarding women in India has not only agitated countries whose women have been victimized, but has even created hardships for male Indian professionals abroad. This can be seen in the recent case of a man being denied an internship by a German professor due to the perception of Indian men perpetuating “rape culture”.
In the meantime, India’s government is trying to escape this negative publicity by following an isolationist policy, asserting that it will handle its issues in its own socially and culturally acceptable way. This rhetoric would be digestible if the country was genuinely taking up the issue and fighting it head on. Unfortunately, the Indian government’s reaction to these crimes are often like the behavior of an obnoxious child with dirt on its face. It neither wants to remove the dirt nor does it want anyone to point out the filthy spot. Instead of trying to protect its ego at all costs and being preoccupied about its global image, it should act on the words of the victim’s father who said: “If by looking at the mirror, we take notice of bad spots on the face and clean it, that is a good thing.”
During the interview one of the rapists stated that “the girl should just be silent” during the rape and let everything happen as it may. By banning this film, perhaps that is the message India is sending to Indian women, if not the world.
Puneet Brar is a sophomore at Cornell University, majoring in Environmental Science and Sustainability and minoring in Policy Analysis and Management.