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Ban On India's Daughter Serves The Status Quo, Not Women

13/03/2015 8:26 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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MANJUNATH KIRAN via Getty Images
An internet search yields thumbnail results of news related to the controversial BBC documentary on the victim of a December 2012 gang-rape, in Bangalore on March 6, 2015. India said it had asked YouTube to block access to a documentary about a savage gang-rape in Delhi, after barring broadcasters from airing the film. AFP PHOTO / Manjunath KIRAN (Photo credit should read MANJUNATH KIRAN/AFP/Getty Images)

For a country that equates truth with victory, we sure are a people who love to silence it. The recent decision by the Home Ministry to ban the documentary India's Daughter is perhaps the most regressive move that we have had in the last several years, stunting yet again conversation and discussion on the issue of rape.

The primary objection to this documentary is an interview with one of Nirbhaya's rapists Mukesh Singh. The interview explores his mindset about women and rape. With frightening honesty, he explains how he feels essentially that women bring rape upon themselves. Yet none of what he says or has been quoted in the mainstream press is shocking. Mukesh is saying what many men in India think but never articulate.

" We see so much danger in the truth that when others tell us about ourselves, we call it a conspiracy."

Yet as I watched the film I could locate multiple problems. Its approach is stereotypical, it is unable to explore the problem of rape in India deeply and holistically. It unfortunately focuses on a single case trying to make the gruesome incident an illustrative example of rape in India. Issues of class, caste and other dimensions remain neglected. This is misleading as violence against women is a deeper and more complex problem in India or elsewhere.

Yet instead of banning this film the government should have used it as an opportunity to begin a broader conversation around rape and violence against women. However, the government is keen to silence this narrative, arguing that it will disturb public order, is derogatory towards women and that it reinforces and perpetuates such mindsets. Many argue that these mindsets already exist and have existed for centuries. To my mind, the only possibly valid reason to delay the airing of the film is that the judicial process is ongoing.

In a society controlled and dominated by men, even today we refuse to recognise marital rape, we want to determine what women should wear, how they should behave and what their role in society is. Women in India have always lived in fear -- not just of rapists but of most men. So the film tells us nothing new or particularly insightful.

"Many amongst us want to silence this truth so that we as people never have to confront it. "

Our Home Minister and many other politicians, including women, are completely disgusted. Many self-righteous Indians join them in this outrage. Yet ironically, they feel no disgust, anger or hysteria when their counterparts in the government instruct women to bear a certain number of children. And have we forgotten the words of people like Asaram who also said that the victim should take the blame for a rape? These statements are equally derogatory and violent towards women, they reflect a lack of respect for a woman's agency over her body. To them, this mindset is not even remotely dangerous.

Instead, what they want us to see here is a shame India campaign. It's almost comical except it's also frightening. We see so much danger in the truth that when others tell us about ourselves, we call it a conspiracy. Of course India should be ashamed of the way it treats and depicts its women. Female subjugation, abuse and domination form a central narrative in current popular culture. It appears in our films, on TV, in political discussions and on the internet with regularity and without apology. Ask most women in India and they will tell you that they feel most men share the views Nirbhaya's rapist. He is telling us the sick truth about not just our men but how we as a society have been complicit in this culture of subjugation.

There is less reason to be outraged with this documentary and more with the truth it tells us about ourselves. Many amongst us want to silence this truth so that we as people never have to confront it. Otherwise, it will force discussion and make us realise that the monster lies within all of us.

This decision to ban India's daughters is wrong on multiple counts. It is censorship without rationale or reason. Most importantly it takes away our right as Indians to reflect on the truth and seek within ourselves solutions to this deepening crisis. Instead, we have TV channels taking the view that unless we ban this documentary we have sided with the rapist. Only they are completely wrong.

"For a country that equates truth with victory, we sure are a people who love to silence it."

Make no mistake, the government is doing no service to women or their rights by banning this documentary. Instead it is essentially letting men in India off the hook so that this society can continue with tacitly approving a culture of violence against women. An FIR has been filed against the filmmaker on multiple accounts. But silencing the truth won't alter reality--most women in India continue to live in fear that they may be the next victims of a violent crime. It time we confronted the truth and reflected on our values as a society--because if we won't, there will never be any real change.

Meanwhile, we can wait for another Nirbhaya to happen--which it will, whether we ban this film or not.

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