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’India’s Daughter’: Hostile Responses from Modi Regime and a Section of Indian Feminists

by Sukla Sen, 22 March 2015

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sacw.net - 22 March 2015

It was on March 3 last, the Union I&B Ministry "issued an advisory preventing the documentary from being aired keeping in mind the implications of the programme." (See: http://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/IB-Ministry-Stops-BBC-Documentary-on-Nirbhaya-Rapist-From-Being-Aired/2015/03/03/article2696363.ece.)
The same day, at 9:57 AM, it had been reported: "Delhi Police obtains restrain orders barring media from broadcasting and publishing the interview of December 16 gang-rape convict: Police." (See: https://twitter.com/pti_news/status/572818103131750401.)

Quite in tandem, it was on March 5, Indian parliament discusses the film, and its scheduled airing on March 8 - the International Women’s Day, "with women MPs registering strong protest even as home minister Rajnath Singh promised that the film will not be telecast in India." (See: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/indiahome/indianews/article-2979766/Gang-rape-documentary-sparks-uproar-Parliament-Home-Minister-vows-NOT-aired-India.html.) "The home minister [further] said the government would investigate why and how the permission was given to British broadcaster the BBC to make the documentary with one of the four rapists who are on death row." (See: ibid.)

It was also on March 3, an online site carried an article by Kavita Krishnan, a leading Indian feminist, wherein she, inter alia, opined:
“I have tried to convey that while we in India are in fact engaged in confronting the violence and discrimination against women here, it does not help for people in other countries to imagine that such brutality is India’s "cultural" problem; that India’s "backwardness" is the problem; or that gender violence is "worse out there in India" [emphasis added].”
She also added: “Mukesh Singh’s and Sharma’s words are instances of rape culture - rape culture that is widespread, in India and all over the globe. But the stories that focus on Singh’s and Sharma’s interviews are framed to take away from that realisation. Instead, the responses they invoke are about how these men are brutes, animals, vile beasts and so on.” [Emphasis added.]
(See: http://www.dailyo.in/politics/kavita-krishnan-nirbhaya-december-16-indias-daughter-leslee-udwin-mukesh-singh-bbc/story/1/2347.html.)
The very same day (at "17:52"), on her FB page she writes: “I like others will wait to watch the film [emphasis added] before commenting on it. But since a very high voltage campaign has taken shape around it, and it’s shaping our response to rape and rape culture, I would like to put on record ....” (See: https://www.facebook.com/kavita.krishnan/posts/10205641738624330.)
It won’t probably be too unreasonable to presume that the article had been penned before the above-referred FB post.

And, on March 5 – two days after, eight prominent feminists, including Indira Jaising, Kavita Krishnan and Vrinda Grover, apparently at the initiative of the first-named, wrote a rather longish letter (see: http://feministsindia.com/activists-discuss-concerns-over-indias-daughter/) to the NDTV Chief urging him not to air the film on 8th March as originally scheduled: "we write this letter to seek a postponement of the telecast, till the appeal and all other legal processes and proceedings relating to the 16 December 2012 gang rape and murder case have concluded.".

Given the fact that the Union Ministry of I&B had already issued an advisory and the Delhi Police had obtained a restraint order against airing the film from a lower court, as noted above, this appeared to be in a way superfluous.

Be that as it may, some of the points made out by the letter were as under.
1. The film infringes upon and compromises the rights of both the rape victim and the accused men. It vitiates the judicial process. 2. "Further the film makes a disturbing and direct incitement to violence [against potential rape victims]." Also: "This film gives disproportionate attention and significance to hate speech against women and here lie our deep concerns." The film "gives a platform to canvas misogynist views and hate speech." [Emphasis added.] 3. The film has a pronounced class (and also racial?) bias.

So, while the demand for "postponement of the telecast, till the appeal and all other legal processes and proceedings relating to the 16 December 2012 gang rape and murder case have concluded" is essentially based on the legal argument that the airing of it would vitiate the judicial process, the letter goes well beyond and opts to decry the film, inter alia, for being prejudicial to the interests of the "accused" and, all at the same time, for inciting violence and hatred against the potential rape victims - women.
It is specifically in that context, a tweet by one of these three, on March 5 itself, becomes highly relevant: "Rapist Lynched After BBC Rape Documentary Aired @sarahdevin http://voc.tv/1w87moo This is wht we fought 2 resist 1/n." (Look up: https://twitter.com/kavita_krishnan/status/573745482360451072.) The tweet provides a link to a news story, ‘Rapist Lynched After BBC Rape Documentary Aired’, which, quite interestingly, tries to make out by, pretty misleadingly, citing a tweet by the Indian Home Minister, Rajnath Singh, that he also shares the view that the lynching was caused by the airing of the subject film and that is, at least one of the reasons, why he has banned its airing.
A detailed examination of the sequence of events leading to the savage (racist) lynching in Dimapur clearly shows that the claim that the BBC film had triggered the ghastly murder was just a canard. (See: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/india-unity/conversations/topics/55665 and https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/india-unity/conversations/topics/55684.)
And it is pretty much interesting to note that here the (main) ground for objection against the film is cited as the fight to resist (likely, or possible?) lynching of the rape accused. Not the narrow technical-legal justification! (That’s a significant giveaway.)
It is, of course, quite another matter that the long letter issued the very same day talked of incitement of violence against the potential rape victims, not the accused.
And, this is what Vrinda Grover, a prominent Supreme Court lawyer,
posted on her FB page, that very day: "I hold that the film should not be telecast till all legal proceedings have concluded. Also the film amplifies hate speech against (sic) women; misogyny and incites violence." (See: https://www.facebook.com/vrinda.grover.56/posts/10153086132561358?fref=nf.)
(For evident reasons, this (weird) line of argument, identifying the subject documentary as the trigger for the lynching in Dimapur, was understandably not pursued much further.)

In this context, also relevant are two signed articles by Indira Jaising, a very senior Supreme Court lawyer.
The first one, ’Documentary Violates The Law, Does Nothing For ’Awareness’’, (see: http://www.huffingtonpost.in/indira-jaising-/documentary-violates-the-_b_6862010.html), posted on March 14, goes on to harp on the legal arguments, just not only against airing the film but also the very process of its making. It goes on to assert: "And how do we know that the convict Mukesh is telling the truth? How do we know that he is not performing for the benefit of the filmmaker or a larger audience on a predetermined script [emphasis added]? There is no way of knowing, which is why the interview with the convict is legally, and morally wrong." And, does not stop at that. It does pointedly tell, in so many words, that the film’s claim of raising "awareness" about rape and misogynist attitude of Indian males is all bunkum: "Some believe the film should be shown to children. For what? Presumably to raise awareness and prevent violence against women. It will do no such thing [emphasis added]. It contains no conceptual understanding within which to comprehend rape as an act of power within a patriarchal society." And, the longish harangue also includes: "Is this film part of that protest culture? Does it strengthen the rule of law, which in turn will end impunity for rape? Far from it." [Emphasis added.] Also: "The film trivialises the enormity of rape. It presents the rapist’s point of view as a rationalisation." And, on and on.
The second one, ’Crossing an ethical line: India’s Daughter comes in the way of a fair trial for Nirbhaya convicts’, datelined March 19 (see: http://blogs.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/toi-edit-page/crossing-an-ethical-line-indias-daughter-comes-in-the-way-of-a-fair-trial-for-nirbhaya-convicts/), quite interestingly, as the caption suggests, pretty visibly shifts its weight. Here it is focused almost exclusively on the legality issue. Not only that, it no longer talks of the film allegedly promoting misogyny etc. It rather restricts itself to voicing concerns for the rights of the accused. And, consequently, the need to restrict "freedom of expression".

These so very tangled arguments cannot but raise the suspicion the real reason for opposing the film is rather something else other than the publicly stated ones.

Here, it would be rather unfair, if one does not mention that there were as well quite a few contrarian feminist voices out there. Here is a sample, not intended to be an exhaustive list: AIDWA statement, dated March 5th (see: https://www.facebook.com/AIDWA/posts/779935928758615); ’Face the truth’, dated March 6th, by Brinda Karat (see: http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/face-the-truth/); ’India’s Daughter: since the Delhi rape things have got worse’, dated March 6th, by Jayati Ghosh (see: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/06/indias-daughter-delhi-rape); ’Inside the minds of rapists’, dated March 8th, by Flavia Agnes (see: http://www.asianage.com/columnists/inside-minds-rapists-043). If the first three in this list are connected with the CPI(M), the last one is not.

Two reviews of the ongoing controversy are particularly informative: http://www.thethumbprintmag.com/indias-daughter-debate-a-struggle-over-gender-censorship-and-colonialism-toby-miller/ and http://www.hopemonkey.org/pitch/7-must-read-articles-indias-daughter-controversy.
For a brief history of the controversy and also the content of the film: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/India’s_Daughter.
Also, of interest, the filmmaker’s own defence: http://www.asianage.com/interview-week/avanindra-wanted-money-give-his-interview-and-i-refused-point-blank-386 and http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/leslee-udwin-wanted-world-to-follow-indias-lead/article6972079.ece?ref=sliderNews.

The question that keeps coming back to one’s mind is why a section of the Indian feminists is so very hell-bent on running down the film and doing their utmost to have it gagged even at the risk of being seen to be on the same side as with the incumbent regime, a prospect which they evidently don’t relish - just refer to the point 14 of the joint letter and Vrinda Grover’s FB post in particular, and to be fair, which goes against the very grains of their respective public careers.
There is no easy answer.

To be fair, the legal argument that airing of the film while the court case is on amounts to contempt of court as it may prejudice the judges, this way or that way, is, on the face of it, a quite sound legal argument. And, the Delhi High Court has, in fact, (already) endorsed this line (see: http://ibnlive.in.com/news/delhi-hc-refuses-to-lift-ban-on-nirbhaya-documentary-indias-daughter/533472-3.html). But there is a significant catch here, though not too visible to untrained eyes. The catch is that in India in the past on several occasions high pitched public campaigns - press conferences, newspaper articles, TV debates, public meetings, online and offline petitions, street demonstrations etc. - were conducted to influence the judicial verdict. None from those who’re now indulging in legal nitpicking are known to have objected. A few of them, in all probability, did even take part. (In fact, the public campaign to get the film gagged, while the Delhi High Court was examining the gag order, itself, by the same token, appears to amount to contempt of court!)

Xenophobic nationalism, cloaked as "anti-colonialism" / "anti-imperialism", is of course a bedrock underlying the arguments put forward by this section of feminists.
But while the Modi regime is ideologically rooted in xenophobia, though only selectively - no problem with inviting foreign capital with open hands but criticism by a foreigner (if s/he is no Barack Obama) is a strict "no-no"; these feminists are only making instrumental use of this element. (For a contrarian view: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/mar/14/not-leslee-udwins-message-indias-daughter-its-messenger?CMP=share_btn_fb.)

So, coming back to the issue, the most plausible answer is perhaps a sense of insecurity, a threat perception, the fear of loss of one’s exclusive territory to a rank "outsider".
The implicit message underlying the shrill campaign appears to be: "Keep off the grass! Trespassing is strictly prohibited!"
That’s, given the gravity and the salience of the issue concerned, is profoundly unfortunate.