India’s daughter – Reply to irrational critics stifling the film

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This week India saw a strange spectacle of some women’s rights activists protesting against telecasting of a documentary film “India’s Daughter” based on the case of rape and murder of Jyothi Singh in December 2012 in Delhi. Though the film maker Leslee Udwin was projecting the film as a part of campaign against gender oppression, some prominent feminists of India, including Kavita Krishnan and Vrinda Grover was of the opinion that the film was anti-women.
Later the Indian Government unwisely prohibited the telecast of the film in India , both on TV and Internet. BBC did telecast it few days ahead of schedule in UK. Before the ban in India could be effectively implemented I could watch it and was surprised why there was a protest.

Those who opposed the telecast had send a letter to NDTV, the
Indian channel which was supposed to telecast it on March 8th, the International Women’s day.
Let me try to reply to the points raised by them in that letter.

First they have raised two legal points.

A. The interview with Mukesh Singh, which is replete with explicit derogatory statements, falls within Section 153A (1) (a) of IPC which reads:

Whoever—(a) by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise, promotes or attempts to promote, on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community or any other ground whatsoever, disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between different religious, racial, language or regional groups or castes or communities

The activists are claiming the convict’s statement is promoting enmity against women and so it is hate speech.
We have seen a lot of great documentaries which has included hate speech to convey its negativity and vulgarity. Should we ban all such documentaries ?

B. The right to freedom of speech and expression is not absolute. It is subject to the restrictions contained in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution, namely decency, morality and contempt of Court. At present, the defendant’s appeal against conviction and death sentence is pending before the Supreme Court, therefore, airing the documentary would amount to gross contempt of Court.

Why these activists are so much worried about contempt of court ? Actually some of them have actively campaigned against archaic contempt of court laws.
Media all over the world have all ways covered crimes exhaustingly and such coverage are usually never considered as contempt of court. If this documentary is contempt of court then each and every news show in our channels are also contempt of court.

There are another 14 points enumerated by the activists. Let us look at them one by one.

1. After viewing the film we are of the considered view that the film infringes upon and compromises the rights of the rape victim and the accused men.It must be underlined that the appeal in the case of 16 December 2012 gang rape and murder is still pending before the Supreme Court of India. This film clearly constitutes an obstruction in the administration of justice, and therefore violates the law. The film carries the potential to prejudice the outcome of the legal proceedings. Our objection to it being telecast during this period stems from our deep commitment to defending the human rights of all and upholding the rule of law.

Are they really saying that in a murder/rape cases interviews of the accused or victim’s family should not be telecast till all legal proceedings are completed ?
Then why they did not oppose the publishing of Babu Bajrangi interview by Tehelka in 2007? Babu Bajrangi was then the prime accused in Naroda Patiya carnage. He was out in bail when Tehelka using hidden camera recorded him boasting of murder. It was only in 2012 verdict of Gujarat court came in that case.

2. This film thwarts the sanctity of the evidence recorded in the trial thereby threatening to jeopardise the rights of the victim and the accused.

No evidence have been shown to the above claim. Also Sanctity of evidence is the botheration of prosecution and Defence legal teams , not of the film maker.

3. The film maker has in an interview on your channel on 4 March 2015, argued strenuously that she has diligently complied with all the conditions laid down by the prison authorities. The relevant question is, does the film infringe the rights of the rape victim, the accused and women against whom the hate speech is being targeted. Simply because the prison authorities and the state has been derelict does it give the film maker license to violate Indian law and constitutional rights.

The film shows one of the convict and parents of the victim speaking freely and airing their opinions. How can such a film infringe the rights of that convict and victim? If the point is right to reply of other convicts are not entertained , I have to point out that a film is not a court. A film maker can make a film as per her wishes.
More over the film itself answers the hate speech by taking a gender sensitive position. The hate speeches only make the film more pro-women.

4. The centerpiece of the film is an extensive interview with Mukesh Singh, one of the convicted accused in the crime of gang rape and murder on 16December 2012. It is necessary to find out how Mukesh Singh’s“informed consent” was sought and given for this interview, as claimed by the film. You would appreciate the vexed nature of assuming free, informed and voluntary consent of a man who is in custody in a jail, convicted of death sentence.

Till now the convict, through his lawyer has not accused the film maker of any wrong doing? Then why these activists are so worried about how his consent was obtained ?

5. While interviewing Mukesh,the film maker also pans the camera to show all the other convicted co-accused lodged in Tihar Jail. It would be pertinent to ask if their informed and voluntary consent has been obtained, and are they aware of the detailing of the crime by Mukesh Singh in this film, where he exculpates himself while making incriminatory statements against the other accused.

Are these activists claiming that media persons should take consent of all persons who are shown in a frame? Then it’s better we shut down all news channels.

6. The film also carries an extensive interview with the lawyer M. L.Sharma, the defence counsel for Mukesh who is heard, again and again, advocating a misogynist perspective,that treats women not as rights bearing persons or equal citizens, but as objects deserving of sexual assault if they transgress patriarchal norms and rules. Advocate M.L. Sharma, wearing the lawyer’s black coat, likens women to flowers and diamond, and asserts that if the diamond is out on the street, then the dogs will get hold of the diamond. Another defense lawyer asserts that women should not step out of the house after 6.30pm, and further, that if his daughter were to exercise sexual autonomy outside the bounds of marriage he would himself drag her to his farmhouse and set fire to her. While it is true that many men across the world hold such regressive views, the amplification of the same by this film also serves to push back the work of the women’s movement in India, which is engaged in contesting and challenging this mindset. We cannot lose sight of the fact that these unlawful and reprehensible statements voiced by two male lawyers are dangerous, inasmuch as they can be received by people as being the opinion not only of lay persons, but informed by law. Such misogynist statements surround us and we constantly refute them; do we then need this film to add to the cacophony of hate speech spewed against women. By foregrounding these voices the film serves to amplify views that encourage and justify brutal sexual violence against women.

All women rights activists use stupid misogynist rants by both lay men and people in power and authority to highlight gender oppression. Many documentary and feature films made in India has included such dialogues. Why can’t you understand that this film maker is doing the same ?

7. The graphic description of the physical harm and injuries caused to the victim is horrific and unnecessary. We are concerned to find that the film maker wishes to show this film to children, and we learn from press reports that it has already been shown to many students in Maharashtra.Our view is that this kind of focus on violence, the lack of regret on the part of the perpetrator, and the detailed description of the torture the victim was subjected to, is actually harmful for young children. The egregious impact of descriptions of violence, verbally or through images, cannot be discounted.

Our children are already exposed to detailed graphic violence through our visual media and feature films. Comparing to that this film do not contain anything that children should not see. Showing this film to high school children with a good explanation of context will only help the feminist movement.

8. Further the film makes a disturbing and direct incitement to violence, by once again focusing on accused Mukesh who states that, “The death penalty will make things even more dangerous for girls. Now when they rape, they won’t leave the girl like we did. They will kill her. Before, they would rape and say, “Leave her, she won’t tell anyone.” Now when they rape, especially the criminal types, they will just kill the girl. Death.” We do not subscribe to the view that death sentence should be awarded for the crime of rape, but it is shocking that the film maker does not see the danger inherent in this kind of incitement to violence and hate speech.

It’s not the convict who had said this first. When ever there was a discussion on making death sentence the punishment for rape, many critics have said that in media and in public meetings. Are such opinions a direct incitement to violence ?

9. Also, in spending so much time on interviewing the rapist Mukesh, and in giving so much attention to the remarks of the lawyer, the film maker seems to be building a narrative of a lack of remorse which, according to her, characterizes ‘the rapist’ in India. The issue of rape is complex and this singular case does not exemplify the psychological or mental make- up of a rapist.

Now this is a point of view. Film maker may have another point of view. Let all point of views come out in a healthy debate. Why this attempt to stifle an opposing point of view ?

10. The focusing on poverty and repeatedly showing clips of the slum to which the rapists of the December 16, 2012 belonged, she is strengthening the very harmful stereotype, that rape is only perpetrated by poor men.This kind of profiling is misleading and unhelpful for advancing women’s rights.

Same reply as to point number 9.

11. We are also concerned with a larger, and to us, very important question. The unfortunate death of the young rape victim in December 2012, resulted in opening up a major discussion and a serious societal conversation and reflections on ending violence against women, and particularly sexual violence, in Indian society. This film, purporting to contribute to this discussion, in fact does not in any way advance the dialogue and indeed, by focusing on the perpetrator of rape, and a lawyer who advocates violence, it makes a mockery of the International Women’s Day marker, on which this film is to be launched. How shocking that on Women’s Day, instead of talking about the serious issues of ending all forms of violence against women, we should be listening to hate speech and incitement to violence against women.

Why can’t these activists understand that highlighting misogynic rants underlines the need for International Women’s day ? Actually the film is 100 times more powerful in strengthening the movement against gender based violence than those made to order speeches we listen to on that day.

12. Hate speech and incitement to violence against any person or class of persons is restricted, and this constitutes a reasonable restriction on the freedom of speech and expression, under the Indian Constitution. Would any right thinking person or responsible channel provide a platform to hate speech that sanctions or condones violence against say Dalits, religious or ethnic minorities? This film gives disproportionate attention and significance to hate speech against women and here lie our deep concerns.

Film makers routinely use hate speech in their films to expose its vulgarity. Should we complain about including hate speeches of Hindutva leaders in documentaries condemning the Hindutva ?

13. Having viewed the film, we are of the opinion that not only does it not meet the objective that it purportedly seeks to advance, in fact to the contrary it gives a platform to canvas misogynist views and hate speech. NDTV has through the evening of 4 March 2015,sought to canvass through its channel, that the film puts the spotlight on the delay and other dysfunctionalities of the Indian criminal justice system, that aid and abet injustice for sexual violence. Having seen the film we can say with responsibility that the film does not deal with the systemic problems that plague the criminal justice system. Rather we have through our work been highlighting and seeking reform in the legal system for the systemic impunity for violence against women.

Should a film have all the answers to the systemic problems that plague criminal justice system ? Should that be a valid reason for stifling it ?

14. We also want to make it clear that our concerns do not emanate from the view that the film hurts the image of India. The pervasive violence against women is what tarnishes India. We distance ourselves from the grounds cited by the government for stopping the broadcast of the film.

See what one of the activist Kavita Krishnan has written here.

…...have tried to convey that while we in India are in fact engaged in confronting the violence and discrimination against women here, it does not help for people in other countries to imagine that such brutality is India’s “cultural” problem; that India’s “backwardness” is the problem; or that gender violence is “worse out there in India”…
……But the danger is that what gets disproportionately amplified instead, is the voice and image of the “Indian man” with the “brutal mindset”……

Those statements do convey the impression that they are worried about “bad” image India and its men gets through this film.
Actually the film do use the opinions of gender sensitive men and women of India to negate misogynist views of the convict and his lawyers. I do not know how these activists saw only one side.

India’s daughter may not be a classic feminist documentary film. It’s only about a gender based crime that some how captured the attention of the World. But it does strengthen the movement against misogyny and gender based violence. By finding imaginary faults with it , these activists have sadly tarnished their own image as valiant fighters for gender justice. Let us hope both the Government and the activists see reason and withdraw their objections to the film so that it is seen widely.

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