India's Daughter: Ban on gang-rape film rattles fight for equality

WARNING: This story contains disturbing content

India rape protest

Protesters in India shout slogans and carry placards during a demonstration against rape in New Delhi. The government's decision to ban a documentary on the subject has ignited fresh debate. (Anindito Mukherjee/Reuters)



The government of India has banned a documentary in which a convicted rapist interviewed in prison blames his victim. It has set off a firestorm of controversy exposing a complex and splintered reaction over what significance the ban holds for gender equality. 

The BBC film India's Daughter is a documentary based on the fatal 2012 Delhi gang rape of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh aboard a moving bus. One of the convicted rapists, while being questioned by filmmaker Leslee Udwin, shows no remorse and says the victim would have lived if she hadn't fought back.

"A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy," Mukesh Singh says in the film. "A decent girl won't roam around at 9 o'clock at night ... Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes."

Udwin said that in order to get a meaningful answer to why violent rape is so common, she had to go to the source.

'There are so many other women who are raped every day – every single day, and that is not in the forefront of the news.' - Kripa Sekhar, executive director, South Asian Women's Centre

"I had to hear it from them. I needed to understand the mentality, otherwise I would have made a superficial documentary," she told BBC.

The inclusion of Singh’s interview in the film sparked a swift government ban on it in India.

India's Daughter has aired on BBC already, and is scheduled to air in Canada on CBC News Network Sunday at 10 p.m. on The Passionate Eye.

The reaction to the ban has been wide-ranging and intense. The initial crime in 2012 enraged the country and amid scores of public protests tougher sentencing was enacted for rape cases.

"Today when we hear news reports of rapes, our heads hang in shame," recently elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said, addressing a growing anger against the nation's persistent violence against women.

But how willing the government is to do something about it has come into question with the ban. Critics say the government's fear that the film shames the country outweighs its commitment to equality and democracy.

India Gang Rape

British filmmaker Leslee Udwin says she had to understand the rapists' mentality, otherwise she would have made a 'superficial documentary.' (Altaf Qadri/Associated Press)

"It's indecent. It's immoral and it could incite further violence against women. I don't think any civilized society should see it," the president of India's Supreme Court Bar Association, Dushyant Dave, told CBC News' As It Happens.

Not all government officials supported the ban, which sparked a fiery debate in parliament.

Government's 'narrow vision' 

"Suggesting the death penalty, banning the movie are not the answers," said Anu Aga, from Rajya Sab, the Upper House of Indian Parliament. "We have to confront the issue – that men in India do not respect women."

 Despite voices of dissent, the ban was enacted with the help and support of police officials.

"It's sad that the Indian government has such a narrow vision," said Kripa Sekhar, executive director of the South Asian Women's Centre in Toronto. "It could have been a very powerful moment for the government to take a stand and support the significance of this film."

Sekhar came to Toronto from India 25 years ago.

"There are so many other women who are raped every day – every single day, and that is not in the forefront of the news," she said.

Rape is reported on average every 21 minutes in India.

"I think the government is shying away from discussion," said Amitabh Kumar, head of media and communication for the Centre for Social Research, a women's rights and advocacy group in Delhi. "It seems to be the route they like. They have also banned Fifty Shades of Grey and other films have been heavily censored."

Parents of India rape victim

The parents of Delhi rape and murder victim, Asha Devi, left, and Badri Nath Pandey, say the interview with Murkesh Singh should never have been allowed. (CBC)

Frustration with the government's decision is widespread.

"We have to show that women's equality is a right and not something that belongs to a man to give a woman," said Sekhar, who has spoken with people in India who are protesting the ban.

"India has the largest democracy in the world. It does believe in the freedom of speech. That is part of the constitution, and yet they are banning this film because the government feels shamed by it," said Sekhar.

The legality of interviewing Singh from prison while his death sentence appeal is still before the courts has also been questioned.

Movie problematic, activists say

"The movie shares a well-known fact without offering any solutions," Kumar told CBC News from Delhi, despite the fact that his organization is against the ban.  

"The patriarchal mindset shared in the movie has been shared a million times before. The filmmaker has tried to gain from the shock value of sharing the mentality of a rapist."

The Centre for Social Research has been working to change the deep-seated mindset of people like Singh with initiatives at the grassroots level – generational awareness programs and intervention at the village level.

"We haven't done a great job of educating men and women about what the rights of women are and that women need to be protected," said Shalini Konanur, executive director of the South Asian Legal Clinic of Ontario.

"The issue is that we need to look at the systemic barriers that victims are facing."

Centre for Social Research director Ranjana Kumari adds that without providing value-added solutions, the documentary does not warrant the insensitivity of the victim's family hearing those comments again

"Why are we paying attention to this utter insult to injury? These kind of interviews should stop," she said. 

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