The Indian government's ban on the Delhi gang rape victim documentary has caused enough of brouhaha for us all to watch it on the sly.
The film by director Leslee Udwin, who is herself a rape victim, doesn't reveal anything that is unknown to the world. Two-and-a-half years after the incident, 'Nirbhaya' is a household name. We all know how she aspired to study medicine, how her financially struggling parents brought her up, why she was out that night and what transpired next.
The only new thing in the documentary is that the perpetrator was interviewed for the first time.
I watched the one-hour-long documentary with dismay. Here was a rape accused looking straight at the camera with unblinking eyes, providing the horrific details of a gruesome rape with utter disdain.
That unrepentant look and the devil-may-care attitude brought back a chilling experience I had just a week before 16 December 2012.
My 11-year-old son had won two tickets to the preview of the movie The Hobbit in a school contest. It was an evening show and presuming that the film would end by 9pm I agreed to take them for the screening.
Unfortunately, the movie began ridiculously late -- at 8pm. And by the time the show ended, the metro ride that we had hoped to take had stopped its services. There was no dearth of autos outside the movie hall, though, so we negotiated fares and decided to hop into one.
As I attended a call, the driver chatted with my sons, asking them why we were out that late. The man, all wrapped up in a muffler, then went on to belittle me for watching a movie so late at night with two kids in tow. He thought it wasn't very ladylike. Then to my utter surprise, he stopped the auto in the middle of nowhere, turned around and blamed my family for allowing us out on our own. He was giving us a piece of his mind while I seethed, unable to talk back as rudely as I wanted to since I feared for our safety. As I yelled at him to start the auto, he nonchalantly told me that women from good households should hold their tongues and not lash out at men!
What he said wasn't very different from what the rapists' defence lawyers voiced in the documentary.
I have been working night shifts all through my career and was never afraid of the ungodly hours. But the underlying threat in the driver's voice and the fact that I had two little boys with me and had to return home through a near-empty highway on a foggy, bone-chilling night, parched my throat. I was angry, irritated and very afraid in my city, the national capital.
"He nonchalantly told me that women from good households should hold their tongues and not lash out at men!"
The unwavering look of accused Mukesh Singh as he stared back at the camera was similar to the one I remember vividly from that night. It could have been me, or any one of India's daughters' who could have faced the same plight as Damini (one of the names we instantly gave to the rape victim, as if it would shield her from a shame she did not deserve).
Was it social discrimination that I faced or just an irate, sermonising son of India who could not imagine a woman living life on her own terms? If the defence lawyers toe the line of the rape accused and say on camera "we have the best of culture. In our culture there is no space for women," or that "a woman is like a flower that is to adorn a home away from the thorns of society" or that they wouldn't hesitate to douse their daughter/sister in petrol if they stepped out with strange men at late hours, what do we expect of unlettered men?
Even after such a heinous crime, moralising comes easy for both the rape accused and their defence counsel.
The documentary would have been more aptly named "India's Sons" - it portrayed men who are ready to kill their female kin if they step out after dark, those who think women are made only for household chores, and those who try to pass off a sadistic rape as an accident.
"Was it social discrimination that I faced or just an irate, sermonising son of India who could not imagine a woman living life on her own terms?"
What has India really done for its daughters? It hasn't given them free education or security in society or health benefits. It has given them the threat that a brutal end may await them if they protest and try to rise above their stature.
Is it because the world will come to know of these 'sons' that Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu calls the film "an international conspiracy to defame India"? Is this why he wants a ban on the film?
I think he forgot that India's daughters are like the phoenix that rise up from their own ashes, while its sons die a thousand deaths trying to control the women with a violence that is both mental and physical.