On Leslee Udwin’s documentary

Now that the furore over it has abated somewhat, some stray thoughts on India’s Daughter, the documentary on Nirbhaya made by Leslee Udwin for the BBC:

1. First things first–the title of the documentary was ill-considered and frivolous. The Delhi gangrape may have anguished the entire nation and unified people in their outrage and horror, but that simply does not make the victim the nation’s daughter. Such shallow sentimentality might be common enough in local tabloids but it does not behove a BBC documentary– because it is patronising, even disrespectful.

Maybe this was just Udwin’s way of trying to garner support for her documentary inside India, by appealing to the parental instincts of Indians (who have a reputation of being rather sentimental). Umm, ill-advised.

2. That said, I thought the documentary itself was fairly well made, in that the point it sought to make came across clearly and unambiguously– India has a huge rape problem that owes itself in no mean part to the socially/ culturally institutionalised misogyny. There is simply no way anybody can plausibly deny that.

I only had issues with the over-dramatisation of certain parts, for instance showing the mother of the victim wiping a tear in slow motion while the accused gave details of the victim’s brutalisation. I did find that a trifle jarring. Also, the victim’s male companion on that ill-fated bus-ride was conspicuous by his absence.

3. While chest-thumping nationalists cried blue murder on social media, I was really hard-pressed to see how this documentary was disrespectful towards India/ Indian males in general. It examined a very specific incident. It also explored the attitudes, widely prevalent by all accounts, that encourage and condone such crimes. How is that disrespectful to all Indian males? Where was it claimed that all Indian men are like that?

I actually felt something close to gratitude towards the filmmaker for at least making an attempt to analyse and discuss these attitudes, which most women in India know about only too well but do not talk about so much, and which, God knows, could do with some discussion. And I am sure I love my country about as much as these nationalists. Oh okay, maybe a little less than they do!

5. Another sore point with the nationalists appeared to be that rape is a problem worldwide, but the west deliberately picks out India, just to malign it. Now, that is a little like Apartheid apologists complaining that racism exists everywhere, but sanctions were imposed only on South Africa. Well, my dear folks, talk to any Indian woman who has lived both in India and in the West, and she will tell you just how bad things are in India, and just why it is ludicrous to even compare India’s record on gender-based violence with any Western country.

As about foreigners talking about the ‘private matters ‘ of other countries, I suppose it will be a dark day when the only people allowed to comment on the goings-on in a country are those belonging to it!! When only Germans, and nobody outside of Germany,  will be writing about the holocaust, for instance. ( This is only an analogy. I don’t mean to compare the holocaust with the Delhi gangrape.)

5. It was interesting how so many people were worried about this documentary giving India a bad name, sullying India’s ‘honour’ as it were. Honour is a queer concept in the Indian context. Sexual crimes of all types are hushed up and brushed under the carpet just so the family’ ‘honour’ is untarnished. The dishonour comes not  so much from the incident itself but from ‘others’ knowing about it. All is well as long as the ‘others’ don’t know.

And so it is with this case. The dishonour lies not in the fact that such an incident came to pass at all, not even in the fact that for all the much-hyped fast-tracking of the judicial process the case is still sub judice, but in the fact that a documentary gets made on it and is watched by millions around the world.

6. While we’re at dishonour, a lot was made of the documentary making the name of the victim public. Well, for one, the name was already widely known to whoever cared to find out. For another, was not the testimony of her fiercely proud parents proof enough that they did not consider the publicising of her name the slightest bit shameful? From what I understand, the law is meant to protect victims who dont want to be named in public– what about the victims who want to be named? Will they be tried for breach of law?

I dare the government to take action against the victim’s parents for breaking this law. About time this law was amended to allow victims or their families to make themselves known.

7. The focal point of the documentary, the carte blanche as it were, was the interview with one of the accused. It made for difficult viewing but it was a coup of sorts, a journey into the mind of a brutal criminal. There was not even of shred of remorse in whatever he said. Clearly, imprisonment does not achieve much by way of reforming criminal minds. I was left wondering whether perpetrators of brutal crimes should ever be allowed to return to the society, as they do in India. As far as I know, life imprisonment in India works out to be only fourteen years imprisonment, if that much. What if the Supreme Court commutes these rapists’ death sentences to lifers? * shudder*

I don’t care if Udwin’s broke laws to get this interview done. This story needed to be told and I am glad it did get told.

7. I was dismayed by the sharp divide between male and female opinion on social media. Most women on my facebook friend list were supportive of the documentary and critical of the government ban. Most men on my Facebook friend list were opposed to the documentary, and supportive of the ban– including men whom I have hitherto known to be fairly liberal, and not quite chauvinist :-(.

The fact that opinion was divided so sharply along gender lines does not augur well for the (already precarious) gender dynamics in the country. Also, most women(including me, because my appetite for argument is limited) got shouted down after a while by the men, who were a lot more vociferous in their damning of the documentary than women were in their support for it–a little like how it plays out in the comments section of the TOI below any article that has to do with women. Women just kind of withdrew and decided that ignoring naysayers was the best option.

So for a while my newsfeed was full of critical, sarcastic, sometimes obnoxious posts on the topic by some men, which were liked and commented on by other men.  I had to resort to hiding updates from some of them, an option I had not had occasion to use so far.

It wasn’t so surprising that the most vocal critics of the documentary also happened to be the most vocal supporters of Narendra Modi– the right-wingers everywhere happen to be ultra-nationalist conservative people– but I sure was surprised at the sheer number of them.

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5 Responses to On Leslee Udwin’s documentary

  1. First, the film is not “banned”, like Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. The same in the West would be called an injunction from the high court. The matter is sub judice, just like Nirbhaya’s trial itself.

    Secondly, Nirbhaya’s friend himself called a documentary fake. That should put things in perspective. May be there is male-female division here too. Perhaps that’s what the intention was to begin with!

    The view of an Indian female who has travelled both in India and abroad can also be considered- http://trekwithsimmer.blogspot.in/2015/04/safety-of-women-in-india-indian-womans.html It mentions the German professor incident as well, something that wasnt mentioned here.

    And let us stop blaming the government or name names.The govt sought to block it because the makers had violated the conditions upon which they were allowed to interview the undertrial. The first notice was served to them on 7th April 2014, under the much beloved “liberal”, see-nothing-do-nothing-say-nothing government of India.

    Incidentally, all the ‘feminists’ appear highly critical of the Hindu causes. This is because they are totally dominated by the Leftist/Marxist brigade, save a few like Madhu Kishwar.

    • Okay, it is a high court injunction, not a ban. Let’s just say it is illegal to watch the documentary in India, and is likely to remain so in foreseeable future.

      I did say that the victim’s male companion was conspicuous by his absence. He also raised a valid query regarding the testimony of a person who appears in the documentary as her tutor-friend, but I do not see how that makes the whole documentary fake. What was fake– what the parents said? What the lawyers said? What the accused said? The rest is trivial anyway.

      The German professor incident was racism, plain and clear. Haters gonna hate. Normally they don’t even tell you the reason why they won’t have you. Maybe the furore gave that professor what he imagined to be a good excuse, and he decided to use it. Good thing his bluff was called. In any case, it’s not like Indian men have suddenly got a bad rep, now that the world has seen this documentary.

      Regarding the link–I’ll refrain from bringing up confirmation bias here, and also from pointing you to n number of accounts that paint quite the opposite picture. I do not doubt the blogger’s intention, and if she says that in her experience India is as safe or unsafe as any Western country, I am willing to believe that she genuinely feels so. Just that her experiences may have been vastly different from the majority of such women(ie, women who have lived both in India and a first world country)

      I quite agree that there is no love lost between most feminists and those pursuing the ‘Hindu causes’, and with good reason too, but it is fallacious to presume that they are all dominated by the leftist/Marxist brigade. I consider myself a feminist (or rather a feminist theorist because I never quite had the courage to walk the talk), and I assure you that I have no Marxist leanings. It is quite possible for a feminist to be a centrist.

  2. The Bride says:

    Hmmm you’ve left out the criticism of feminists (not ‘feminists’ as the commenter above said) including Kavita Krishnan who appeared in the film but later seems to have second thoughts. I think the feminist criticism was how as a whole the film presented a certain class of Indian men as predatory and particularly dangerous and barbaric. So weirdly close to the nationalist critique but different in some ways.

    • Ah yes, Kavita Krishnan! Good that you mentioned her– so here is a feminist who is also a card-carrying, propah communist, and she is a critic of the documentary! So much for feminists being deeply influenced by the left and hence being blindly opposed to right-wingers.

      Actually I am not entirely convinced by the criticism that the documentary presented a certain class of men as being more dangerous and predatory, because the lawyers of the accused, who are obviously much better off, were shown to be heartily encouraging and condoning the attitudes which lead to such crimes. But then an element of class is undeniably involved in the case, and maybe her communist background makes Krishnan extra sensitive to underpinnings of class– so even though I do not quite agree with her, I kind of see where she is coming from.

      Speaking of the feminist perspective, the most comprehensive, balanced and well thought-out article I have read on the documentary is that of Nivedita Menon on Kafila..
      http://kafila.org/2015/03/08/indian-feminists-indias-daughter-and-sexual-violence-the-issues-at-stake/

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