A lot has been said and written about Leslee Udwin's documentary, India's Daughter, which is based on the December 16, 2012 Nirbhaya gang-rape case. Several ethical and legal issues have been raised and Nirbhaya's friend has even described the documentary as 'fake'. Opinions are divided about the telecast of the documentary being banned in India. Ethical and legal issues aside, I don't have a problem with the film being broadcast, however, the question I was left asking after watching it online was, what purpose did it really serve?
"I certainly didn't need a documentary to tell me that there is a mindset problem. I can see and feel the problem when I walk on the streets of Delhi."
Most men and women in India are acutely aware of the prevalent regressive mindset about women. In fact we witness and experience various manifestations of the mindset in our daily lives. Every other day we hear about people in positions of power, including parliamentarians and leaders of political parties making downright sexist remarks. Sharad Yadav, Botsa Satyanarayana, Tapas Pal and many others have repeatedly made shameful comments about women. Ironically, the statements made by these 'gentlemen' have often been defended by their female colleagues. When women do raise objections they are often labelled as 'activists' and 'feminists', serving as a source of great amusement for many. For instance, when Sharad Yadav reduced a recent debate in parliament to a ridiculously low level by referring to the shape and colour of women, one could see and hear several of his fellow parliamentarians having a good laugh. So is the issue that we are not aware of the mindset problem or that we don't care enough to do something about it?
The former chairman of the Press Council, Justice Markandey Katju, recently stated that had Shazia Ilmi been BJP's chief ministerial candidate they would have had a better chance of winning the Delhi elections as she is 'more beautiful' than Kiran Bedi. Frankly, I find such comments far more offensive than what the convicted rapist Mukesh Singh had to say in the documentary. I do not expect empathy from a brute like him and I am glad that he is behind bars. But what about Markandey Katju, Sharad Yadav and others? We hear their outrageous comments all the time so do we really need a documentary to make us realize that there is a deeply engrained misogynistic mindset? Does it need a documentary broadcast on BBC for the Bar Council of India to decide to take action against the defence lawyers in the Nirbhaya case? The lawyers have after all been making insulting comments about women without the slightest hesitation for the last two years. I certainly didn't need a documentary to tell me that there is a mindset problem. I can see and feel the problem when I walk on the streets of Delhi.
"For too long, women have been defined by their relationships - they are someone's daughter, mother, sister or wife. Why is it so difficult to accept women as human beings first? "
I also feel that by calling the documentary 'India's Daughter', the film-maker has in a way reinforced exactly those stereotypes that we so desperately need to do away with. India undoubtedly is a difficult place for women but so is the rest of the world. Till 1980, the rape legislation in France was completely ineffective and unrealistic with minimal convictions. The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK held their first boat races in 1829 but it wasn't until nearly 100 years later that women from the Universities were allowed to compete. Thousands of women, including those who are pregnant, are murdered by their boyfriends or husbands in the US. So, this is definitely not India's problem alone. Also, why does Nirbhaya have to be remembered as a 'daughter'? For too long, women have been defined by their relationships - they are someone's daughter, mother, sister or wife. Why is it so difficult to accept women as human beings first? Nirbhaya was a human being above all else and she had a right to live which was snatched away from her.
Of course it is the film maker's prerogative to decide what aspects she wants to highlight in the documentary. However, I feel it would have been far more impactful had she also showcased some solutions (beyond laws and bans) to address this global problem. It is not a problem that affects a particular country or religion alone, it transcends all boundaries and therefore needs solutions that are also developed collectively. The manifestation might be rape or discrimination in the work place but at the heart of the problem is the age old mindset and it is high time that we start focusing on innovative ways of challenging it instead of continuing to dwell on the fact that it exists.