Documentary on Indian gang-rape victim raises many age-old issues

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  • Wednesday, 18 Mar 2015

I HAVE watched many films in my life but none struck me as hard as India’s Daughter.

You might not recognise the name of the film but if you follow the news, you are likely to have heard of it.

India’s Daughter is a documentary about Jyoti Singh, the 23-year-old medical student in India who was brutally gang-raped in 2012.

She later died from the injuries she suffered in the incident.

Jyoti’s experience, and subsequently her death, caused massive outrage domestically and globally. In India, thousands took to the streets, a judicial committee was formed to look specifically at sexual assault in the country and all the perpetrators have been convicted.

In recent weeks, however, the case has made global headlines again — after India banned the BBC documentary and because the film features interviews with Mukesh Singh, who drove the bus in which Jyoti was assaulted, and lawyers for the defence who are still of the opinion that it was the young woman’s fault in the first place.

Among the reasons for blame is that a woman should not be out on the streets after dark and that she should not be out late with a stranger of the opposite sex — in this case, a friend of Jyoti’s.

These people interviewed also made many other comments that to anyone exposed to the ideologies of the Western world, what we sometimes call 21st century values, would be considered extremely offensive, demeaning, threatening and violent.

They believe that a woman’s place is at home and in the kitchen, and that her life is of less value than a man’s.

That Jyothi, through interviews with a friend and her parents, is shown as a young woman who had gone through life challenging these beliefs — with her father saying that she had asked him to use the money he saved for her wedding to send her to medical school — paints a huge contrast.

One of the lawyers for the defence talks about how his beliefs are consistent with that of his society’s, that it is India’s way.

Another talks about how he would personally burn his sister or daughter alive, if he felt they had brought shame to the family.

Granted, the film was not made and screened without controversy.

Besides the ban (which some reports state is not a blanket ban, but just on any version that features the interview with Mukesh), India’s Daughter has been accused of being factually inaccurate and not representing the voices of Indian men whose values are not consistent with what has been portrayed.

As with any other form of media representation, it is always wise to take everything with a pinch — or even a fistful — of salt.

That said, by the end of the film, it is clear that the documentary is not only about India; it addresses issues that we need to talk about in all parts of the world.

These are the very issues that many people struggle with, even in liberal democracies, but even more so in developing countries.

This is because rape as a phenomenon is not just about a particular incident, or a set of perpetrators of a particular crime — in this case, whether it was the few men and teenager who forced themselves on and hurt Jyoti or the bus driver who didn’t touch her but didn’t do anything to stop the assault.

It is about how there is a whole generation — or more — of men who believe in their divine right to treat women badly simply because they “won” the genetic lottery.

And others who believe that empowering women and treating them as equal human beings is inconsistent with societal values in some parts of the world.

Because rape is not just about rape — it is about entitlement and power that people feel which allows them to assault another human in such a manner.

It is about education — not just to issues of values and humanities but as micro as sex education and human rights. It is also about class, poverty and economic discrepancies.

Then it is about us as human beings and the way in which we perceive the notion of gender, masculinity and femininity.

Contrary to what some might believe, gender equality does not only empower women — it empowers men as well.

It breaks us all from this notion of dominance of one gender or behaviour over another, and helps us break free from perceptions, stereotypes and boundaries that hurt us more than we think.

What India’s Daughter means to me is more than just a society struggling with the consequences of inherent patriarchy.

It is also an indication of how much further we have to go in changing global perceptions of power and gender, and why we need to take the issue more seriously than we might already do.

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