By Rahul Maganti:
On a pleasant Saturday evening, more than 500 people in Colaba, an elitist part of South Bombay, had gathered at the Holy Name School Grounds, a missionary school run by the Christian Missionaries – sisters and nuns – to protest against the sexual assault of a nun in West Bengal a few days ago. The event, which attained a formalized tone right from the start, showcased a documentary called ‘Daughters of Mother India’ by Vibha Bakshi, who is an alumnus of the same school. The film won her a National Award for the Best Film in the Social Issues category.
After all the religious prayers were done with, the Cardinal of the Catholic Community presided over the event and shared his thoughts. He took the opportunity, though indirectly, to hold the government responsible for the recent spate of attacks on Churches and the Christian community. He alleged that these attacks were politically motivated and were definitely ‘not sporadic’.
The documentary starts off with the ‘Nirbhaya’ case and the rape of a 5-year-old girl, ‘Gudiya’ . With frequent bites from lawyers, police and sociologists, the film tries to swim its way towards the aftermath of the Nirbhaya incident through the protests that rocked Delhi and the subsequent formation of the Anti-Rape Law. However, no bites of the political activists who were involved in the on-ground mobilization of the people across Delhi were taken.
While I was watching the film, I felt that it was a more comprehensive version of ‘India’s Daughter’. Both the films start with the Nirbhaya Gang Rape case and are centered on an ‘urban middle class’ rape victim, with whom the elite can relate. But, both of them, fail to dissect the class, caste, and religious angle of gender inequality. They fail to talk about the violence faced by women during communal riots.
They remain silent on the poverty stricken lower caste women who bear the brunt of the class and caste hierarchy. Many would argue that this is beyond the scope of the film – an objection – with which I strongly disagree. When you are using a generalizing statement like ‘Daughters of Mother India’ as a title for your film, you are not only talking about the upper middle class, the elite, and the urbane, but also talking about Dalit women, muslim women, and all the women who are Indian.
You are referring to the Manipuri and Kashmiri women, who were allegedly raped by the Army personnel. The over-simplification of gender inequality will only lead to a misunderstanding of the whole situation. We need to see how class, caste, and religion connive with gender inequality to make it all the tougher for a woman who has no significant economic and social capital to deal with crimes committed against them.
However, this film has discussed the problem of ‘rape culture’, while talking about the subject of rape. In this regard, the film has done well. The film showed Dipankar Gupta, a trained sociologist, and Justice Leila Seth, member of the JS Verma Committee, which drafted the Anti-Rape Law, to speak about misogyny, sexism, and patriarchy in the Indian society. Dipankar Gupta, went a step ahead and spoke about how minute things represent gender inequality. To discuss this, he used the example of ‘Kanyadaan’ to explain how commodification and objectification of women is represented in films.
The film ends with a hope. It provides a way forward, rather than just posing a problem. The film shifts its focus to exposing children to sex education, and shows the tremendous change in the attitude of the children who are exposed to sex education at an early age. The film director, narrating the film from the background, speaks to the police at the end, who themselves confess that there is a very important need for gender sensitization amongst the police force.
Flavia Agnes, a lawyer and gender rights activist, who has fought for justice for many rape and sexual assault cases shared many stories from her day-to-day experiences, which left us teary eyed. However, they were very thought provoking. Albeit, the disturbing evening turned into a thought provoking evening.
I have seen a few documentaries on rape, gender discrimination, and sexual assaults, including the much hyped BBC Documentary, ‘India’s Daughter’. I have always wished to see a documentary on rape and gender inequality that starts with the Kherlanji village killings, where the whole family of Bhaiyyalal was massacred, the genitals of his wife, sons, and daughters were mutilated, while Bhaiyyalal stood and watched the brutal killings. They were murdered because they were Dalits.
I understand that I have to wait longer for my wish to come true. In my opinion, most of the filmmakers, coming from a privileged class and caste background, fail to listen to the voices of the Dalits and the working class people.
Who will tell their story?