Film ban a reckless step

Gagging freedom: The Centre seems to be keen on banning anything which it doesn't like

Film ban a  reckless step
I have seen “India’s Daughter,” the film by Leslee Udwin, which has been banned by the Government of India. The film and the events leading to the ban have generated much heat but little light.

Almost every issue that has been raised is very important but none have been discussed and the debates have not led to adeeper understanding of those issues, rather the real questions have been obfuscated by the agitated speakers and anchors who add to the hysteria rather than focus on the key concerns.

The most disturbing aspect of the events is that a news channel led a campaign to prevent a rival channel from broadcasting the film. Can it be coincidence that one channel’s campaign for the ban was led by a man and those who were for the film were women journalists such as Sonia Singh of the NDTV? In fact, the pro-ban channel succeeded in silencing the voice of a woman, Leslee Udwin, too.

The first issue that has been raised is whether the documentary gives a convicted rapist a platform to air his views.  Some people, including feminists have alleged that the film foregrounds the voices of the rapist and his lawyers who seem to share the views of their client.

The filmmaker has defended herself against this charge by stating that she has, in fact, exposed the mindsets of the men and exposed how widespread such views are. The convicted rapist states that women should not be roaming around the town with boyfriends and if the physiotherapist who was gangraped had not resisted she would still be alive.

Having watched the film carefully, I can say that I did not at any time feel that the film maker is trying to make her viewer feel any sympathy for the convicted rapist and murderer. She was only documenting his sociological roots. Some women felt that by interviewing the families of the convicted men a certain sympathy would be evoked and it was a part of the Leslee Udwin’s agenda to do so in the hope of saving the men from death penalty.

Those who are for the death penalty are angered by the fact that the filmmaker has openly expressed her belief that death penalty should be abolished.  As a person who opposes death penalty, I cannot really object but I can honestly say the film does not bring up that subject at all.

The second issue that has been vociferously advocated in support of the demand of the ban is that the film will show India in a bad light and the reason why the BBC decided to broadcast the film despite the Government of India’s advisory is a reflection of British imperialism.  The BBC has a history of anti-bias and in 1970 it was expelled from India by Indira Gandhi.

  At that time, the BBC was blamed for one-sided slanderous interpretation of events in India. However, the BBC’s biases are not central to the debate around the merits of the film. As for India’s image, I think the ban on the film and the threats to take action against the BBC will do more damage than if the film had been aired and then criticism had been levelled against it in a mature manner.

The third issue brought up in partial support of restrictions on showing the film have been made by advocate Indira Jai Singh who has quoted legal provisions from various statutes to argue that the film should not be broadcast till the legal proceeding pending have been exhausted.

According to her, it would amount to contempt of court. Other women activists have supported her stand. Jaisingh says a postponement of the film would ensure the rights of the victim and the accused are protected. Already, so much media attention has been given to the case that this film will not make any difference to the court proceedings.

Sociological perspective

The film, in my opinion, is very well made because it has put the whole event in a sociological perspective. The centre stage of the film is the story of the victim. The parents wanted the world to know the name of their daughter and they revealed it themselves. It is truly a wonderful working class family, with the parents expressing the same joy on the birth of their daughter as when their sons were born.

When the physiotherapist asked her father to put the money he had saved for her marriage on her medical studies he agreed and even sold his ancestral property to support his daughter. The father worked double shifts and the daughter worked in a call centre to pay for her medical education. As a result, she often slept for just three to four hours and studied in the mornings and worked through the night.

The most poignant descriptions of the 23-year old are by a young man, Satendra, who was her tutor. He relates an incident when her purse was snatched and the police caught the boy and beat him. She rescued the boy and took him aside and asked him why he had tried to steal. The boy answered that he wanted to buy good clothes, shoes and eat a hamburger. She bought all these things for him and then made him promise to never steal again. 

Satendra says his student always said that the biggest problem was the mindset of the people.  On that there is little controversy. And the film can be used to raise awareness on these attitudes which are shared right across the Indian spectrum, from politicians, godmen, judges, lawyers and thousands of young men growing up in slums lime the one in which the convicted rapists lived.

We cannot possibly send all these men (and some women too) to jail; we cannot censor all of them and we cannot hound them through media trials. What we need is to do have discussion on what we can do to change this ugly, frightening reality. And we need to analyse the causes. We can begin by watching Leslee Udwin’s film and engaging with it, going forward, making our own films and drawing up an action plan which could be funded by the Nirbhaya Fund lying unused. That would honour the memory of the victim and it would be a meaningful way to celebrate International Women’s Day.
(The writer is advocate, Supreme Court)

The Ban/Censor Index of India of LAST WEEK
Beef (in Maharashtra)
Fifty Shades of Grey (Movie)
India’s Daughter (Documentary)
Mute the word lesbian in Hindi film Dum Laga Ke Haisha
Ban on Hindi film Dirty Politics in Bihar (later lifted)
Karnataka bans parties where foreigners are invited unless it is under police vigil.
Outraged at the documentary ban

We appreciate your concern but we feel “India’s Daughter” has a strong public interest in raising awareness of a global problem and the BBC is satisfied with the editorial standards of the film…, We think the film is an important account of an event that galvanised Indian opinion to ensure such tragedies are not repeated…, The purpose of including the interview with the perpetrator was to gain an insight into the mindset of a rapist with a view to understanding the wider problem of rape. We do not feel the film as currently edited could ever be construed as derogatory to women or an affront to their dignity.

Indeed, it highlights the challenges women in India face today” BBC Director of Television Danny Cohen to Government of India.
It is not about whether the documentary should be made or not made in this age of social media, or how you can ban something because it appears in the social media.
Kirron Kher,
BJP MP, actor
Watching “India’s Daughter”, very moved by the sensitivity with which the victim’s story is told.
Tavleen Singh  Journalist
Just look at the irony of it all. Instead of acknowledging the gravity of the situation and promising to tackle crimes against women on a war footing, the Home Minister is diverting attention from the tragedy itself and concentrating on prison procedures (who granted permissions to the crew to shoot inside the infamous Tihar jail? Why?)
Shobhaa De, Columnist (From her article in NDTV)

Editors Guild of India
The ban is wholly unwarranted. It (the film) portrayed the courage, sensibility and liberal outlook of a family traumatised by the brutality inflicted on their daughter, the continuing shameful attitudes towards women among the convict as well as the educated, including lawyers. 

The rationale that the ban was in the interests of justice and public order as the film created a situation of tension and fear amongst women and the convicts would use the media to further his case in the appeal that was subjudice, seems to be an after-thought.

From speeches in Rajya Sabha during Question Hour on March 4, 2015

The reality is that what the man (rapist Mukesh Singh) spoke reflects the views of many men in India. And why are we shying away from that? In everything glorifying India, we are perfect; we are not confronting the issues which need to be really confronted. Suggesting death penalty or banning this movie is not the answer. We have to confront the issue that men in India do not respect women.

Anu Agha
(Nominated member, Rajya Sabha)

Any time there is a rape, blame is put on the woman, that she was indecently dressed and she provoked the men. They are not just the views of the man in the prison; they  are the views of many men in India. Let us be aware of it and let us not pretend that all is well.

The issue is, the anger is on why this man’s interview was taken, the anger is on how that man can say such attrocious things, the anger is on why the world is being told that the rapist has made such comments. I have heard similar comments in this House like if woman wears a particular kind of dress, if a woman is on streets late at night, they will invite trouble. It is good that this documentary has been made so that crores of Indian men will know that they think like the rapist. If they feel that this is wrong, then they will have to change their thinking.

Javed Akthar
(Nominated member, Rajya Sabha)

The Indian government’s attempt to suppress this film has precisely backfired, provoking an even broader domestic and global debate on the complex questions it raises. The government’s censorship of the documentary is a worrying attempt to restrict free expression on a key issue in the public interest.

Suzanne Nossel,
executive director, PEN American Centre
(A prominent writers group in the US)

 
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