India’s Daughter: Leslee Udwin’s Documentary on BBC

I SAW the video. Not in totality. Skipped and rushed through parts. Watched 59 minutes long video in about 20 minutes. Why did I not watch the whole thing? Two reasons – Usual dearth of time to watch a one hour long video which restates most of what I already know (shallow, but true), and it was a deeply disturbing video (deep, and equally true).

Putting my gripes with the documentary aside, it is disturbing to relive the case, to try and understand how the perpetrators of that crime think about their actions, to understand that they are not alone in thinking so, to realize that the lawyers defending them (people who value an explicitly taken weak argument) have no qualms going on record saying things like Indian culture has no place for a woman, to realize that an entire mass of educated bureaucracy, empowered legislative body, elected political system, and the similarly effected population of this country – failed Nirbhaya.

We fail the women of our country every day. Every time we step out on the street. Over and over again. By not standing up for them. By believing that standing up for them is like extending a favour. Or an act of heroism or bravado. And by “we”, I am including the women around me as well. But then, we don’t just fail the women. We fail the entire bloody community that we are a part of.

The documentary spends an inordinate amount of time projecting Nirbhaya as a good person, and the criminals as rotten to the core. A documentary about the subject need not have spent as much time profiling one woman. It needed to stand up for all women. Irrespective of them being virtuous, noble, humble or otherwise. Not all women who are raped and killed are Nirbhaya. They don’t need to be. They have their own identities. And their own freedom to protect. In this documentary of Nirbhaya vs. the society, somewhere, the brutality of the incident and the shamelessness of these criminals is all that is left. The issue, though, is much bigger. Nirbhaya is not India’s only daughter.

Way more disturbing, and probably a subject that needs a bigger debate, is the set of statements made by the lawyers. Is a “man” whose explicit biases include considering women as flower, precious gemstones, or fruit on the street, fit enough to be a lawyer? Was this a lawyer provided to the criminals by the state? Or, did these lawyers come to the fore on their own, given the popularity the case would’ve got them? Or, could these criminals really afford a lawyer on their own? There is a point in “Better Call Saul” (a TV Series) where a person, who while being guilty doesn’t really consider herself guilty of anything”, tells Saul that “you look like a lawyer that guilty people would have”. If these are state provided lawyers who have such “beliefs”, what chance do women approaching the state machinery for justice and fairness have? There is another one who is willing to put petrol on her daughter and burn her alive if she is found out and about with a boy. Now here is a thought – lets see if we can convince his daughter(s) or wife or mother to take this challenge head on. And then file a case of domestic violence and rape against these lawyers. And lets see if the judiciary will be able to stand up for what is right.

More often than not, and its my belief, a society at large behaves well out of fear. Not because of education or awareness or culture or something like that. Over a period of time, fear is forgotten and conditioning takes over. The conditioned behavior then becomes the benchmark behavior that differentiates right and wrong civil societies. Like eating beef. Or, drinking. India does not fear its law. It can be bought and sold for a 50 rupee note at times. On the other hand, people don’t jump lights in US because they are afraid of the law. Now, assuming that there were no penalties for jumping lights, would the average American still be standing at the traffic light, waiting for it to turn green?  My hypotheses, after witnessing NYC traffic, is that s/he won’t.

What do I want? Decisive, fast action. If established, a rape convict gets death sentence. If established, a dude jumping lights more than twice gets his license revoked. Hit and Run (like the Housing.com story (not sure if it’s true) or the Ambani story) – definitely license revoked, significant financial penalty, and a jail term. Why, after so many years, are we still debating about the punishments for these people? Why after so many years do people still have a doubt about Mr. Lalu Prasad Yadav’s corruption and subsequent punishment/ debarment from Indian politics? The failure of the judiciary, law and order and politics cannot be the reason why the whole Indian society can be called “sick” by someone who’s spent a couple of years in India. That it might actually be sick is another and a very important issue.

And this is where my problems with the documentary begin – If I were to evaluate the video purely on the merits of a documentary, I don’t think it’s the smartest or even that its one of the better documentaries that I have seen. Its research is shallow, the narrative manipulative, and there is a level of continuous unrest at the back of your head because it doesn’t seem real quite often. A lot of the footage seems a little too edited and doctored (and not just in a documentary-ish way). There seems to be a little too much of prepping the people for their dialogues. Like when Jyoti’s tutor narrates events from the past, it does not come naturally. Sometimes, the anguish comes through, but often, it seems scripted. It capitalizes on strong emotions, not the quality of probing and gruesome research I was expecting to come across. It is so high on emotions that you cannot follow the logical train. I am not doubting the intentions, but when you’re putting a documentary on BBC, I believe the research also needs to be more comprehensive.

Of the 6 convicts, there is only who’s interviewed (probably an issue with the permissions, though it does make you wonder what the other 5 inherently believed in) – Mukesh Singh. Mukesh was the driver of that bus. The one expert on India is someone who’s brought from outside – Maria. There is but one psychoanalyst who gets airteime, and two defence lawyers get a lot of airtime because of their controversial statements. Amod Kanth of Prayas (NGO) is roped in to provide some input on juvenile cases.

There isn’t much in the story that is new. There aren’t conflicting viewpoints from a legal or psychoanalytical point of view. What leads to this? How are people so comfortable with themselves after doing something as heinous as this? Even after realizing that there life has come to a premature end because of this extremely inhuman act of theirs?

Did you, like me, at some point feel that the “rapists will kill rape victims from now on” is more an argument that is fed to the convict? Considering that this research would have been done through several conversations and interviews, do you think prompting has a role to play in how people respond to questions? Like – “people outside are saying that a your being sentenced to death will lead to more… “.

A big shout out and hugs to Nirbhaya’s parents for being able to not let rage take them over completely. The fact that they still are able to have a sane conversation about all this tells you what strength they have. If only people could learn some of that.

The documentary starts narrow, stays narrow, but generalizes everything to “India”. There isn’t much that is new. Nirbhaya case was one that brought a large populace to the streets demanding justice. Before and after that, there have been many more rape cases, maybe none so brutal (I don’t agree that an outright murder of a raped woman is any less of an eventuality than what happened with Jyoti). Those cases have not been talked about. And hence, while in spirit, you may want to take a stand that Nirbhaya Case = India, there isn’t enough evidence in this documentary that supports it.

It is a decent containerization of an event that shook the nation and some of the socio-cultural aspects around that particular incident. The fact that it shook the nation at large should tell you that India is not “sick”. That there is no need to give up hope. There will be moments of despair. Bad things happen. They happen everywhere. What is shameful is the way we act and the way some agencies try to sweep it under the carpet.

And that brings me to the ban. I am somewhat speechless. To debate this ban in parliament seems such a pointless waste of state time. I am sure the government concerns are not about the glorification of criminals (apparently). Rather, they must be worried about the poor portrayal of India. Sir! Humble request Sir! There are other bigger problems to worry about. Like bringing this damn bloody case to its conclusion. One of my managers used to tell me – if you have time to complain about something, you have time to go do it. The inaction of years and decades cannot be shoved under the carpet by imposing bans on documentaries, even if you think they are one sided. Something that is not true here. Acknowledge your damn failures and fix them. Put safety measures in place, and not just for women. Do an overhaul of the legal system. Work towards creating opportunities for everyone. Ensure high quality public transport that does not stop working because its 11 in the night. Come down upon police that won’t take a case because “bekaar ke lafde mein kya padoge saab”.

Stop wasting precious parliament time on debating stupid bans for heaven’s sake. You’re not a twitter celebrity looking for attention and retweets. You are the bloody government. Stop acting like a teenager who can’t take criticism. Stop acting like a gully ka goonda shouting “mera bat hai, mere rules honge”. Maybe you don’t realize this. But a big change that has happened in the last few years – there is a new country called Internet and its identity is very similar to that mythical demon Raktabeej. For every voice that you suppress, a hundred new pop up. And you are neither its prime minister, nor its constitution. Stop sulking and suit up.

 

Should you watch it? Your choice. Do you want to? Would you have watched it otherwise? But don’t watch it just because it has been banned. Don’t watch it to find your moral high ground. There is nothing sensational and path-breaking about watching this documentary. Its not a thriller, edge of the seat variety. Neither is it boring. It’s only 60 minutes. It ticks off all the check-boxes. Its a reminder of one of the most often discussed events in the recent Indian history. At the end of it, it is a given that you will come out feeling extremely disturbed, that much is a guarantee. But still, it is like any other and many other documentaries. The subject it touches is a raw nerve. Unlike education, poverty, juvenile crimes, state of infrastructure, mafia control, etc. Banning it was idiotic though.

Just by banning it, government is telling you to go find ways of watching it. So, Leslee Udwin can thank Indian Government for popularizing a documentary which would have been otherwise watched by a few thousand people.

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About Amit
Conventional, boring, believer, poet, Shayar (to be precise), lover of music, musical instruments, and all that can be called music (theoretically or metaphorically), jack of all master of none, more of a reader less of a writer, arbit philosopher, foolish debater.. and many more such things.. like so many people!

2 Responses to India’s Daughter: Leslee Udwin’s Documentary on BBC

  1. Vivek says:

    I think one should watch it to really understand what women go through in our country. If we feel disturbed, that is rightly so, because that is what I imagine what women would be going through. The first step to change is empathy – and this documentary might be the agent to induce it.

  2. Ken Sears says:

    The demented, psychotic defense lawyer A.P. Singh has told the whole world for what kind of dishonorable behavior he would burn his daughter to death. Now the question I want to ask the demented defense lawyer is this: for what kind of dishonorable behavior ought your daughter to burn YOU to death? 

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