India’s Daughter is a terribly disturbing film. Yet, it is a story that must be told. After the protests that embraced the nation following the rape and the murder of Jyoti Singh, one would think that the film made by a rape survivor herself, that chronicles the events of that fateful night, meshed with narratives of people from various facets of her life, would be accepted with enthusiasm.
The usual opposition from the guardians of ‘image’ is ludicrous and predictable, but the vehement protests from the feminists and women’s organizations, were surprisingly alien. The scornful criticism to downgrade this documentary to a sensational movie, thus making it irrelevant, began even before the film was released.
Kavita Krishnan, Secretary of All India Progressive Women’s Association, asked in an article “Along with Mukesh Singh, she did not, for instance, seek to interview the heads of the IMF or the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the media barons and so on who are accused of sexual violence.” Does a documentary become relevant only if it addresses an issue at the broadest possible scale and finds its victims and perpetrators all over the world, even though it was clearly named ‘India’s daughter’?
This wasn’t supposed to be an in-depth look at the myriad factors that constitute gender violence in India, nor was it an attempt to chronicle the history of such prior incidents. This is the story of a girl who was subjected to inhuman violence, the immediate context in which it happened, the mindset of the perpetrators, and the broken system in which such things are bound to happen. Why is it important that a documentary on Jyoti Singh should also cite prior incidents of rape and brutal violence? Are people more upset about what it didn’t show than about what it did?
Kavita Krishnan further elaborates by saying, “The concern is that the airing of the documentary will result in a media trial — that will essentially leave the judiciary with no option but to uphold the death penalty.” While chiding the media trial, she herself participates in it wilfully – what is the difference between an article and a film, both discussing a trial under appeal?
The rape suspect decided to incriminate himself in the interview; if the Supreme Court cannot look at the evidence objectively and arrive at a constitutionally and legally sound decision, then the system is broken to begin with. While I am genuinely concerned with vigilante justice, such as the nauseating incident from Nagaland where a violent mob lynched a rape suspect, that is not the reason to not air the story of a rape victim. Furthermore, are we seriously suggesting that no media discussion can take place on anything from communal riots to corruption scandals until the trial is complete?
The incorrigible comments from the defence lawyers make you wince, but regardless of the spirit in which the defence lawyers in the film talked about the sitting members of the parliament who have criminal cases against them, it brings forward the hard truth about an uneven and broken judicial system, where justice is denied unless you belong to the upper rungs of the society, whether it is class, caste or political clout. Of course, his twisted logic suggests that therefore, justice shouldn’t be served in cases of rape either. Each character reveals a lot more than the actual words uttered. The defence lawyers are such caricatures that the film not only exposes the shocking mindset of the people who are sworn to interpret and defend the constitutional rights, but also exemplifies the shabby legal counsel extended to the defendants from poor backgrounds.
At multiple levels, the film also chronicles the story of other victims – The wife of one of the rapists who is back in her village, now knowing that her husband might soon be hung, worries about what is to become of her life and contemplates strangling her own child; the mother who thought that her son had died until the police came looking for him. Several commentators took up issues with the imagery of slums, as if it insinuates that these thugs were produced only in those environments. For this particular story of Jyoti Singh, the inner city slums, where the juvenile rapist and other men had moved up the crooked ladder of crime until it culminated in unspeakable brutality, is indeed a relevant backdrop.
As for the sensationalism and shock value, people should be shocked, they should know how their apathy has created an environment where a young girl can be brutally raped and murdered, they should have a hard look at their own medieval outlook on women and perhaps see for themselves how frighteningly identical their views are to the views of the perpetrators. If the film has played a small role in creating a glint of introspection, which might culminate in a more just outlook or even a better dialogue on gender violence, it has done something to move the needle forward.