Is the recent ban on ‘India’s Daughter’ another sign of our intolerance to criticism? Devjani Bodepudi explores.
I am ‘India’s Daughter’. I wasn’t always, but two years back in my country of origin and I feel like I am. Broken and tattered though she is, I am still as much hers as anybody’s. I feel like I have a right to say what I am about to say.
The BBC Storyville documentary which has garnered so much interest and outrage has been banned by the powers that be. India’s other children have been forbidden to watch it. Good old parental controls have been exercised here. Our guardians have spoken and so we must all be silent. No more of this silliness! Rape is a serious issue and we must let the adults deal with this.
Indians are offended by its contents. There are so-called intellectuals critiquing its merit as a documentary, and whether it delves deep enough into the fundamental issues, like feminism and ‘stuff’. When in actual fact, there is a much simpler issue at play here. Censorship. I’m worried that eventually we’ll be China, for example. The country will cease to edge forward, it will be dragged back into the dark ages, where women will be veiled and books will be burnt and the internet will be banned. It’s not far off. The film said nothing new. It exposed what India has seen and chosen to ignore for decades. What are our rulers afraid of? Apart from the loss of tourism, of course? Outside India, well, we are always going to be a nation of snake charmers who own elephants and speak ‘Hindoo’! We have exotic looking women and turbaned, muscle-bound men who tame tigers with just a look. We believe in black magic and we talk to our spices in hushed tones of love and longing! Let’s not forget the crumbling hotels, where the world’s aging will finally be loved! We also have saris and bindis and call centres, which we are extremely proud of, by the way! And so, who’s not to say we’re depraved as well?
We can talk about how feminism is not explored more deeply, and we can criticise the title, ‘India’s Daughter’ for being a so-called patriarchal label, in itself (for goodness’ sake!) and we can say that the Brits were patronising but at the end of the day, don’t they have a bloody right to be? What have we done since 2012? How much has actually changed? (Yes, we talk about rape and we’re not so ashamed of it anymore, but it’s still the fault of the woman, isn’t it?) And ultimately, how much can you philosophise, in 60 minutes? The documentary did the job, it told a story. Let’s not forget, that was the aim of the game, here. They were supposed to tell the story of Jyoti Singh and the gang-rape that ultimately defiled and defined her. In doing so, they reminded people, me included, that this was a just a girl, who aspired to more than her existing lot in life. It reminded people, in the words of Kavita Krishnan that what she was doing was utterly normal. She was not the only aspiring woman of her generation. India is not wholly a nation of backward soothsayers. We are trying, despite the weight of tradition, religion and fear to move into the world of sunshine and regulated medicine.
There were two standout areas in the documentary for me: one was where the defence lawyers spoke and waxed lyrical about the value of women and how they had no place in society. And the other was where Mukesh Singh’s parents talked, not about the crime their son had been convicted of committing, but the fear now of how they would survive without an able bodied bread-winner in the family. There are too many people in this country who are simply fighting on a day to day basis to survive to even begin to worry about education and ethics and feminism. And that’s what we need to take away from this. There are still gross injustices at play here, in this land of cricketing heroes and Bollywood mughals, who get off on offending!
It brought to light, not that we are a nation of rapists and wife beaters, but that we are a nation which simply was not ready to take on the task of forging a legal system which could be fair to all its citizens. With defence lawyers who fail to articulate a sentence, without sounding suspiciously like aforementioned snake-charmers and spice-whisperers, we in turn, have failed. Delhi, the capital, the economic and educational hub of our glorious country, is in itself made up of several different sections of society. We have the slum dwellers, the aspiring slum dwellers, the middle class, the English-medium educated working class, the Christians, the Hindus, the Muslims, the Brahmins, the Jaats, I could go on and on, because all of these qualifiers are just as valid as an individual’s basic economic status. No, they all feed into an individual’s basic economic status. No one is equal in the eyes of the law. No one. And I think the documentary showed you that. Did you note the accents?
India is not equipped to deal with this. Silencing a 60 minute BBC documentary about one rape case has only highlighted her fear. India has failed. She knows it, but is throwing a tantrum, like the naughty child who has been caught doing something wrong. Yes, India is still developing. Well noted, Mr Policeman. But what are we developing into? A bigoted old septuagenarian who doesn’t give a flying fig how its poor survives, as long as we stop the cow slaughter and silence the women and ban all insulting and patronising documentaries about us!
Own up India! Maybe then, we can fix this. It’s not just about Jyoti Singh. It’s about Moushomi Mondol and Gurpeet Kaur and Saira Reddy and Anjum Begum and that boy who likes other boys and that girl who feels like she’s trapped in the wrong body and the pensioner who’s not receiving her pension. It’s about the owners of the tea estates and their employees, it’s about the aspiring poor and the slum dwellers and the farmers and the litter pickers. It’s about every microscopic detail in the fabric we call India. It’s about water and nepotism and bigotry, about sex and starvation and the lack of the basic, solid, unwavering knowledge that we are all equal despite who we are born as. It’s about the fact that India just doesn’t have that yet and maybe it never will.
Some think the documentary made India look bad. No, it made India look like a developing nation, which is struggling to develop. India’s rulers made India look bad. Trying to hide behind censorship, just made things worse. Those who may not have intended to watch it, were impelled to. They simply had to see what all the fuss was about, including me! The issues won’t go away. Nobel prize anyone? Not this year, I’m afraid. This year we’ll just shout loudly about the conspiracy against us; how no one likes us just because they’re jealous of the superhero leading us all in the right direction. One day they’ll see us for who we really are! We’re mystical and magical and we discovered mathematics, don’t forget! And we will stomp on anything that says differently!
We are all India’s children and we must obey our father. Or be silenced with our guts wrenched out of us… pretty much like Jyoti Singh, when you come to think of it.