Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
By Padmalatha Ravi Follow @BengaluruHudugi The 58-minute film is not insulting to the memory of Jyothi Singh, the 23-year-old gang rape victim. The film infact upholds her determination, her hope and her dreams for the future. A large part of her dream that Jyothi herself seem to have articulated in her lifetime was her desire to be treated as an equal, in a patriarchal society. The film is an ode to the courage of her parents who stood by her unwaveringly before and after the event. It is gut wrenching to hear her parents describe the last few days of their daughter, of her unfulfilled dreams and the void her death has left in their lives. This is presented with sensitivity and dignity that Indian media has long given up trying. The film dutifully records how the nation that had till then brushed aside sexual violence against women, stood up and collectively raised its voice. It accurately portrays the helplessness women have always felt; Even as the protesters were teargassed and water-cannoned. Patriarchy, which is almost never discussed, plays a prime role in the discussion on why the rape happened in the first place. It sends chills down one’s spine to hear Mukesh Singh one of the convicts, calmly explain why he thinks the girl deserved it. Yet, his words do not come as a shock. Those are words we have heard over and over again from neigbours, family members, some times from police officials and more often from politicians themselves. We have seen popular media endorse his views and normalise sexual violence against women in movies and songs. The film raises a pertinent question – how did the rapists assume they had the right to do what they did? A question a small segment of the country has continuously asked, but one that has been drowned in the cacophony surrounding the incident. In the film however, more than the convicts, it is the defence lawyers AP Singh and ML Sharma, who shock you. You wonder in horror how such lawyers can exist in the judiciary alongside Justice J S Verma, Justice Leila Seth and former Solicitor General of India, Gopal Subramaniam. Justice Verma committee consisting of aforesaid names suggested some of the most progressive and definitive action on crimes of sexual violence against women. The then government implemented a watered down version of the recommended reforms with full backing of its allies and opposition parties. None of the above points from the film are new. It simply reiterates and collates what we already know. Then what is all the noise about? The film is made based on one event, yet without hesitation generalises the issue and misses the big picture. It assumes that the main reason rapes happen is because Indian men from economically poor background resent the women doing well for themselves. It makes the economically poor men the villains in one stroke. It is a generalisation that misses the nuances of country like India but feeds right into the white man’s idea of a developing nation in the subcontinent. The film while vilifying the men for the rapes, takes a subtler approach when it comes the supportive men in Jyothis’ life – her father, her friend who was with her at the time of crime, the night patrolman who took them to the hospital or her tutor. A point so subtle, that large sections of Indian men are either offended at being painted as rapists or apologising for being so since the film made it to the headlines. Kavitha Krishnan, Secretary, AIPWA and Polit Bureau member, CPI(ML) who almost became the face of the campaign back in 2012, was the first to raise objections. But her critique was more on the campaign named “India’s daughter” rather than the film itself. The very premise of the protests on the streets of Delhi and elsewhere, in 2012-2013, was to do away with patriarchy and instead value and respect women as individuals. The film’s title and campaign puts the story back in square one. But if you look closely, the term India’s daughter was created by the India media, which also made a martyr out of Jyothi by calling her Nirbhaya. A name that the government has also co-opted, merrily. The filmmaker simply cashed in on it. The film also falters by having a white woman scholar put across the history of sexual violence, in perspective. It as if India lacks women scholars who have an understanding of the issue and only a white scholar is qualified to do that. Even before the film was released there was much critiquing of the film. From the statements made in the parliament it looks as though the documentary is what will bring India’s reputation to shame and not the incident itself. Large sections of the citizenry are outraged, especially on the social media. But the outrage seems to stem from the fact that the rapist was given a voice. Shouldn’t we as a nation know why these incidents happen so often? Shouldn’t we introspect on how rapes continue with such impunity? Yes, the film does come across as a “civilizing mission” in parts. But it does not take away from the fact that it records an important time in Indian history - a time when the citizens, both men and women have raised their voice against sexual violence. It is also a reminder that two years after that gruesome incident very little has changed at the ground level. Rapes continue unabated, merely becoming news items, TRP ratings and crime statistics. Though the government has doubled the Nirbhaya fund making it a 1,000 crore kitty. The fact remains that the fund is largely underutilised. The fact remains that the current government has cut down the number rape crisis centres (Nirbhaya centres) from the original 660 to 36. Banning the film will only make the brush the issue under the collective carpet of short term memory. Instead the film should be screened and the questions raised in the film should become part of public discourse.  Padmalatha Ravi is an Independent Journalist and Documentary filmmaker. She made Good Girls Don’t Dance, a documentary questioning the notions that shape the society’s reaction to sexual harassment, molestation and rape, in response to the Delhi gang rape incident. Tweet Follow @thenewsminute
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