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‘India’s Daughter’ film reignites public anger

Human Rights
Protester lights a candle

A protester lights a candle at a demonstration demanding justice for a rape victim in India. Ramesh Lalwani under a Creative Commons Licence

India is outraged, livid, seething with anger. The BBC film, ‘India's Daughter’ has stirred up the country even more than the actual rape of ‘Nirbhaya’ on the night of 16 December 2012. Thousands took to the streets then, in protest after the story of the horrific, heinous (there are not enough adjectives to describe what the low-life rapists did) rape details hit the headlines.

The people – women and men – all over India who wept and lit candles for the hapless 23-year-old are furious at the words of the callous rapist Mukesh Singh: ‘You can’t clap with one hand’, or that the ‘girl shouldn’t have resisted’, then she wouldn’t have been murdered, just thrown off the bus after they’d ‘done’ her. The rapist added that girls and women are more ‘responsible’ for rape than men or boys. That a girl who steps out after dark is ‘more responsible’ for rape than a man. That only a small percentage of girls are ‘good’. The implication being: the others deserve to be raped. These interviews have scratched at the wound, brought all the horrendous memories to the surface again. Made us livid about the fact that not much has changed since December 2012, despite the rhetoric and the lofty promises of every government since.

Perhaps even more nauseating are the words of a supposedly educated male, advocate ML Sharma, one of the defence lawyers, who shockingly says, ‘If you keep sweets on the street then dogs will come and eat them. Why did Nirbhaya’s parents send her with anyone that late at night? He was not her boyfriend. Is it not the parents’ responsibility to keep an eye on where she goes and with whom?’

The spokespeople for the Indian government announced a ban on the film. The YouTube version instantly went viral. India’s urban young, the ones who wept for Nirbhaya, will not be cowed or   suppressed. In spite of the film being taken down, they have blogged furiously, rallying around to put up newer versions, determined to subvert the censors.

The debate rages. India has been dubbed the rape capital of the world. It is a national shame, undoubtedly. But is the solution banning the film? A stupid move, anyway. Banning a book or film immediately makes its ratings go sky high.

Indians are demanding solutions, not censorship or knee-jerk reactions.

Apart from technological solutions, like better street lights, security cameras and better policing, we need to ensure rapists do not get away scot-free. In February this year another young woman was brutally gang-raped by nine men who shoved sticks, stones and condoms into her vagina. It didn’t make headlines. There are rapes every day. The rapes of adivasi and dalit women, or poorer women by dominant-caste richer men rarely make headlines. The victims seldom receive justice.

Though I consider myself a feminist, I have advised young British students to wear loose, cover-up clothes in order to protect themselves in India. I hate doing this, but I’d rather they were safe than sorry. I consider that young urban women are less safe today, on our city streets, than I was as a teen four decades ago. More female foetuses are aborted now than in the past, in spite of amniocentesis tests for sex selection being banned. Acid attacks on women, dowry deaths, a skewed sex ratio, violence against women.  The list goes on.

As we approach International Women’s Day 2015, I am filled with sadness. I had intended, originally, to write a piece filled with hope and optimism.

‘India’s daughter’ turned that into a joke. I hope this stirring up will result in some action that makes life better for India’s women. And all women everywhere in the world.

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