British Columbia·Q&A

Filmmaker who told story of 2012 India gang rape says rape culture is here too

Why should the story of a brutal 2012 gang rape and murder in India matter to Canadians? Filmmaker Leslee Udwin says rape culture is connected all around the world.

Leslee Udwin interviews rapists who killed Jyoti Singh in 2012 in doc, India’s Daughter

Activists of the Communists Party of India (CPI) hold placards during their protest against the rapists of Delhi student, Jyoti Sing. (NOAH SEELAM/AFP/Getty Images)

A filmmaker who helped put women's rights on the global agenda after a brutal 2012 gang rape in India is in Vancouver this week as part of this year's Indian Summer Festival.

Leslee Udwin's film India's Daughter tells the story of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh who was beaten, gang raped, and tortured by six young men in a private bus while it was travelling down the highway. She had been out for a movie at a mall with her friend.

The case made headlines around the world, and Udwin's film did as well.

Udwin spoke about the film and how it connects to sexual violence around the world Friday night at SFU's Goldcorp Centre for the Arts.

Udwin joined On The Coast guest host Michelle Elliott for an interview before her presentation.

What was it about Jyoti Singh's story that struck you?

How ubiquitous this was. How often I had heard of brutal, horrific violation of a woman or a girl all over the world. So in a strange way I wasn't that shocked by the incident itself.

What gripped me was and made me decide I had to go out and make this film was the unique response to that event. It was hordes of angry, impassioned, committed protesters, civil society, and there were men and women in unprecedented numbers pouring out onto the streets of India's cities and screaming: we will have no more of this.

I fell in love with those protesters. I had never seen another country — and to date, still haven't — stand up with so much robust vigour and passion and commitment for women and girls. We are still on the bottom of the heap of the world's concerns.

Leslee Udwin is the filmmaker behind India's Daughter. (CBC)

There was though also the response from the government and the lawyers for the rapists.

There was huge insight to be gleaned from the utterances of the lawyers. I was inquiring into the minds of the rapists. An intrinsic part of this film had to be understanding why these men do what they do and in order to do that we have to hear how they've been brought up, what set of attitudes they've had handed down.

The first thing that struck me was only one of them had finished secondary school. So I had this rather complacent understanding that the fact they were from very poor backgrounds and uneducated must have been a significant contributory factor.

Then I interviewed their lawyers. It's quite remarkable: because the lawyers are more entrenched in their hatred of women and devaluation of women despite the fact they've had the privilege of access to the highest possible degrees of education.

That really is where I got my biggest insight: the root of this problem lies not in who's had access to education, it's in what we have been taught or are being taught. We're only really concentrating on creating cogs in the conveyer belt that will lead to a replete labour market. What about educating these children's hearts?

A still from the death row interview with convicted rapist and murderer Mukesh Singh, from the documentary India's Daughter.

How do you make the connection between sexual violence in India and here in Canada?

In Canada, there are almost half a million rapes perpetrated per year. Of those, three per cent are reported. Of those, one third lead to actual prosecution, and half of that one third lead to conviction. That is shocking.

What does that mean? It means the perpetrators are walking around free, raping again with impunity. It means you have a rape culture in this country. That is a pretty horrendous, shameful fact. It ties in with every other country in the world.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview, click the audio labelled: Leslee Udwin on her film India's Daughter