Not only was this past weekend marked by International Women’s Day, but with it came the release of an empowering yet highly disturbing documentary: India’s Daughter.
Banned in India, international broadcasters chose to bypass the Indian government’s wishes and air the controversial film that tells the story of Jyoti Singh, a 23-year-old medical student who was gang raped on a bus by a group of six men. Brutally beaten and physically disfigured by the act, Singh was discarded on the side of the road, but managed to survive long enough to pass with her family in hospital. The controversy circles around the angle taken by filmmaker Leslee Udwin. Not only does she interview Jyoti’s family and friend, but questions the defense lawyers, and even one of the murderers themselves – most of whom are currently on death row (one perpetrator was tried as a juvenile and was only given a three year sentence). According to the film, the Supreme Court is currently reviewing the case before sentencing is final.
Before the film’s release, it was already wrapped in a whirlwind of media attention. The ban revolved around the statements made by Mukesh Singh – one of the accused rapists – and his views on his crime. Despite his sentencing, he still refused to own responsibility of the crime and still maintained strong opinions on the mistakes of Jyoti, such as being out too late at night and fighting back against the rape. After tumultuous protests across the country after the initial crime, it appears the Indian government was determined to avoid the added flame to the women’s rights fire. But does this justify a ban on a film that simply aims to reveal details and the back-story of a hate crime?
What became extremely apparent as the film progressed is that the fight for women’s rights in a patriarchic society is actually a much more complex issue than the law or what occurs inside the courtroom. By visiting the families of the accused, it becomes clear that a lack of education and development are just as much of a hurdle as the inefficiency of the Indian judicial system. I believe this is the true larger picture that feeds into women’s equality issues around the globe. Without infrastructural development, there will be a lack of education, and with a lack of education comes a lack of change and growth in thought and cultural outlook. When one considers that India is a quickly developing country with monumental growth, it’s hard not to factor in the situation of less developed countries where issues of gender inequality have still not been put in the hot seat. India holds the potential to be a shining example to developing nations. The message is becoming loud and clear: Indian women are no longer willing to be silent about their strife. Of course there is nothing perfect about how the transition of the law is occurring, but this process is likely to be lengthy and a case of trial and error.
Before the film’s release, I listened to the BBC World Service radio’s show World Have Your Say, where they engaged in debate of the ban on the film. About half way through the panel discussion, Leslee Udwin expressed deep frustration with the fact that none of the other interviewees had actually seen the film, despite their strong opinions. The overarching message? If Indians are to hold an educated opinion on gender equality and the acceptance or rejection of rape within their culture, the freedoms to not only express their opinion but also to educate themselves are undoubtedly essential.