About who we are not

The documentary on the December 16 rape perpetuates stereotypes. The filmmakers also violated written undertakings.

Written by Meenakshi Lekhi | Updated: March 10, 2015 8:34:58 am
Rape documentary, india's daughter, BBC documentary, documentary ban, Leslee Udwin Instead of sticking to its stated objective of a social purpose, this documentary has acquired an underhand commercial sheen. The filmmakers had expressly taken permission for social research, but eventually took the film to be broadcast on BBC4, which further sold rights to eight other networks — by no means a social-research platform.

The December 16 Delhi gangrape was an utterly condemnable crime. As a society, we have anything but shied from talking about it, protesting against it, writing about it and acting on it. We have been working hard to make sure that the “mindset change” that our society has spoken of is actually carried out. I have invested myself in the fight for women’s rights. I worked hard with my party to draft robust recommendations, more than 70 per cent of which were accepted and incorporated, to engender change and empower women. Our MPs stood shoulder to shoulder across party lines in Parliament to ensure that this important change was brought about in our system.

Given this, I ask you to stop and think about why an objection should have been raised against Leslee Udwin’s documentary. We have several documentaries and films depicting the status of women in India, the incidence of violence and the post-Delhi gangrape scenario. None was stalled. Here is why this documentary has been nothing but a deceitful exercise from the start.

Instead of sticking to its stated objective of a social purpose, this documentary has acquired an underhand commercial sheen. The filmmakers had expressly taken permission for social research, but eventually took the film to be broadcast on BBC4, which further sold rights to eight other networks — by no means a social-research platform.

Why did the filmmakers hesitate to reveal these intentions when they took permission from the government? Given these obvious commercial tactics, I fail to see when the self-proclaimed “social purpose” will kick in.

I would like to ask the filmmakers if their intention was truly to posit a social agenda or if it was only a sick manipulation for commercial gain.

Second, the filmmakers had signed a legal undertaking to submit their unedited footage to the authorities. This was not done. Despite the same being conveyed by the government and jail authorities, they flouted and disrespected our laws by releasing the documentary to the Indian audience without so much as a warning about the explicit and adult nature of the content.

Third, the filmmakers had given a written undertaking that the film would not be broadcast before the end of the judicial process. They were given legal advice to not broadcast it before the final Supreme Court verdict, as it may interfere with due process. Yet, the filmmakers and the BBC broadcast the documentary. Was this not a blatant violation of a written undertaking given voluntarily by the filmmakers, and interference with due judicial process?

What option then did the government have? The government could have either got a restraining order and banned the film till the disposal of the petition, or allowed an unethical journalist to mock Indian law and due process. The government gave her the liberty to film here and she returned the favour by utterly misusing this liberty and displaying absolute contempt for the law of the land. The same laws would have applied to anyone who made a documentary here and there is no reason it should be any different for a foreigner who agreed to submit to our jurisdiction and laws.

If this documentary was supposed to be fair, shouldn’t the action taken by our society also be shown as a “mirror” to who we are? If you come here with preconceived notions, it becomes hard to look beyond those coloured thoughts to notice that our law is so progressive and protective that a woman’s statement in a rape case is sufficient for prosecution. In other countries, incidents of rape do not even make it to local or national news. However, in the past two years, India has seen unusual international coverage of every single incident.

While we froth about the rapes happening in India, let’s not forget that rape and violence against women is a deep-seated issue from Washington to Bogota to London. India has a higher conviction rate than some “progressive” countries like the UK. What this shows is that not enough is being done to protect women across the world. It is all the more surprising, then, that the international media has not reported this skew and higher incidence of rapes closer to their own homes.

The BBC doesn’t even have to go far from its homestead to find a story of sexual abuse. Former host Jimmy Savile has been accused of hideous sexual crimes but shockingly, with all its tall claims of a moral agenda, it would appear that the BBC has made no documentary explaining the mind of Savile. Indeed, when the BBC’s competitor, ITV, did finally air a documentary on Savile, it did so at a late-night 11.15 pm slot, with caution and responsibility. If the BBC was so intent on showing the film, why could it not display the same responsibility while broadcasting it to Indians?

Has the BBC also forgotten about the more recent Rotherham case involving the brutal sexual exploitation of 1,400 children? What has stopped the righteous BBC or the director of the documentary from covering this and holding up a “mirror” to society? The director was quick to call our society “sick”. But I fail to understand how this discriminatory attitude can continue when there are more sexual crimes happening in her own country, with a much lower conviction rate.

I worked to ensure that the high court allowed the press to cover the Delhi gangrape trial and need not be told twice how important it is to get the message out. I know this can be done without contravening the law. But you cannot do it with suspect intentions. It is with the complete understanding that we are in the internet age, where the material could have been accessed despite a ban, that Parliament stood its ground to make a point about its sense of morality and contempt for such a violation of Indian law and journalistic ethics.

The film falsely demonises the Indian man and portrays us as a perverted society. That is not who we are. We are, instead, a society that came out in unprecedented numbers to protest the commission of a brutal rape — unprecedented, because one will be hard-pressed to find a situation of outrage as vociferous and as vast in any other part of the world for a case of rape. We are a society that pushed a lacklustre government to enact and implement a criminal amendment law in 2013. We are a society that celebrates the courage and strength of women each year
on December 16 to remind ourselves of the promise we made to fight violence against women. We recognise that it is not only women who are in this fight, but that men also hold an equally important place in campaigning alongside us. We don’t need to invoke our mothers, sisters and wives or even daughters to engender that respect. The BBC should consider using such a campaign in its home, where the problem is more acute, than setting out to paint India in a bad light.

The writer is a lawyer, women’s rights activist and a BJP MP in Lok Sabha

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